Connecting With Workers About Health Care? Call Their Cell Phone

Our phones are fast becoming the ATM of health. That’s the upshot from the Pew Mobile Health 2012 report.

Some 85 percent of American adults own a cell phone today, and 31 percent of them turn to their phones for health or medical information, up from 17 percent since this study was last conducted in 2010.

The figures are even rosier with smartphone owners. The survey found that 45 percent of all Americans own a smartphone, with 52 percent of them using it for health reasons — no doubt because accessing, viewing and sharing are all easier with a smartphone.

Texting about health care not popular

The numbers aren’t universally ticking upward, though. Despite text messages improving health in emerging countries, texting isn’t seeing broad use among American cell phone owners.

Among the 80 percent of us who text, only 9 percent of smartphone users and 6 percent of all cell phone owners receive texts about medical or health issues. there’s a similar pattern with app downloads and use. Among the 84 percent of smartphone owners who’ve downloaded an app, only 19 percent have downloaded an app to manage or improve their health. The most popular health apps continue to be exercise, diet and weight apps.

Something interesting happens, however, when you look only at those who are sick, making a big health change or caring for someone who is.

Caregivers, people with chronic conditions, and people facing a medical crisis or a significant medical change, such as weight loss or quitting cigarettes, are more likely to use their phones to look for health information, receive health information via text message and download health apps.

Target areas to communication about

Many employers are aware that mobile technology offers them a new channel for health promotion. In the 2012 Technology + Employee Wellness survey, my company, Context, administered with Shapeup, we asked employers about their use of mobile solutions such as text, apps and even mobile-optimized content. Only 17 percent of respondents currently use any, but 56 percent are considering doing so.

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Those who are using mobile solutions or plan to do so identify these target areas:

  • General health communication – 66 percent;
  • Physical activity – 59 percent;
  • Weight management – 45 percent;
  • Health coaching – 39 percent;
  • Tobacco cessation support – 30 percent; and,
  • Condition management – 29 percent.

Employers may wish to reevaluate their targeted areas of use, considering Pew’s findings that people engage more with mobile technologies during health crises and major changes. The 26 percent of our survey respondents who currently have no plans to integrate mobile solutions into their health promotion strategies may wish to reevaluate their position too.

As the Pew findings show, employees are ready and waiting.

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s free-range communication blog.

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