According to the “Mobile Health 2012” survey on the use of cellphones for healthcare that was just been released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, “half of smartphone owners use their devices to get health information and one-fifth of smartphone owners have health apps.”

Pharmaceutical marketers who wear “rosy glasses” may take away from that top line synopsis, which appears as the subtitle of the survey report (find it here), that it is time to develop Rx branded health apps — such as adherence reminders — for consumers. But if you look more deeply into the survey results, which I am sure you will do after reading this, you will find that only about 9% of U.S. Adults over the age of 18 (19% of the 45% of smartphone owners) “happen to have” apps that help them track or manage their health. Keep in mind that “having” does not equate to “using.” We know from other surveys that the majority of these apps may have been used just a few times and then forgotten.

Also, 81% of those 9% have health apps for:

  • Exercise, fitness, pedometer or heart rate monitoring (includes specific types of exercise like running, ab workouts, yoga, etc.) – 38%
  • Diet, food, calorie counter – 31%
  • Weight – 12%

Other “uses” include “period or menstrual cycle” (7%), “blood pressure” (5%), and WebMD (4%).

So, on the one hand we have these disappointing numbers regarding mobile health apps. On the other hand, however, PEW reports that “in 2010, when the same percentage of U.S. adults owned cell phones, 17% of cell phone owners reported using their phones to access health information. Today, that number stands at 31%, almost double the previous figure.” That’s 31% of 85% of all U.S. adults over the age of 18, or 26% of all adults!

“Access health information” more or less refers to using the browser on the smartphone to access plain old web sites. IMHO, this means that drug companies would be better off optimizing their Web sites for mobile access than putting money into the development, distribution, and support of “apps.” And, according to Klick Health, which is in the business of optimizing Web sites for mobile, “Google recently reported that 1 in 5 searches on Google are now from a mobile device. [Google] also asserted that ranking priority within mobile search results will be given to sites that are mobile optimized. This further underlines the need to ensure your website is optimized for mobile.” For some interesting statistics from Google, see “Mobile-friendly sites turn visitors into customers.”

“Sadly,” reported Michael Maher, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Digitas Health (here), “a 2011 Mediapost audit showed just 19% of pharma sites are mobile-optimized, and Google estimates only slightly higher at 21%.” A Digitas Health December 2011 survey found that of the top 25 pharmaceutical brands of 2010, only three had mobile websites specifically built to display on mobile browsers.

I wonder if the situation viz-a-viz pharma Web site mobile optimization has improved much in the last year.