Upward Mobililty

Early last month, in the wake of the Apple announcement of changes coming to iOS-5, I wrote a posting about how the future might be impacted by cloud computing, increased access to Twitter and considerations around the mobile access to the Internet, particularly by minorities.  (See “For Future Communications, Consider the Clouds on the Horizon“).

Yesterday Mashable carried the news that exemplified the increasing role of mobile access, a role that should not be underestimated when thinking about the future of communicating with your constituency and how it might impact not only healthcare communications, but the regulation of those communications and the very practice of medicine.  That news was that the i-Pad last year generated 1% of the world’s Web traffic.  (See Mashable -“iPads Generate 1% of World’s Web Traffic“)

That is a tiny percentage, one might observe.  1% is not normally considered big – ask many of those running for President.  But considering we are talking about the planet – ok – and considering the iPad only was released in April 2010 in the U.S. and even later in Europe – that is a pretty impressive stat.  Combine it with smartphone access to the Internet statistics, and the trend is clear.  So are the implications.

QR Codes are a slightly more complicated version of a barcode, but with the potential to hold much more information.  They have been used in Japan for many years, but are only now becoming increasingly common in the U.S. and some airlines are even using them for boarding passes on your mobile device. They are little patches that resemble a stamp.  Information such as instructions on how to take a medication or use a device could be put into a QR Code.  Care instructions for a patient going home could be put into a QR Code.  A web connection to more content could be put into a QR Code so that when a patient or consumer or caregiver or health care provider scans the code with their smart phone they can be directed to a URL or a video where there will be more content.  And what’s more, it is easy.  There are Web sites that will make a QR Code for you – free.

The pharmaceutical industry, as noted in yesterday’s posting, is still struggling for the most part, to capture the potential of video.  But getting something like QR codes – and considering the other ramifications of increasingly mobile access to the Internet along with rapidly emerging technologies, has huge potential and deserves to be considered and planned for by all healthcare stakeholders – including pharma and including the FDA.

This week I ordered a scale that is set with WiFi.  When I step on it, it will send my weight, BMI and other information an App on my iPad2.  As a hypertension patient, I have also ordered a blood pressure cuff that likewise will feed my BP and heart rate into the same App so that I can track both concurrently – something my physician has always urged me to do.

Implications?  I attended all of the Advisory Committee meetings where various companies tried to move statins from RX to OTC status.  All attempts failed.  One of the primary reasons was that the committee members and the FDA were concerned that anyone taking a statin would still require the existence of the “learned intermediary” (the health care professional) to monitor their cholesterol levels and to detect any elevation in liver enzymes that could signal a problem.  Could a future app, with instructions embedded in a QR code change all that?  Perhaps.

Clearly companies are beginning to think about these things.  Also last month, Pfizer announced the first “virtual clinical trial“.  It allows participation in a trial regardless of the patient’s geography.  But there are other aspects to the use of emerging media vis a vis patients.  And while many pharma companies and FDA itself continue to struggle to figure out some of the simplest aspects (some pharmas still don’t have RSS feeds!), others are clearly beginning to consider the sophisticated use of new tools that will position them, in the true nature of social media, as solid partners in advancing the care of patients – something patients, caregivers and providers will welcome.  In other words, showing your innovation and devotion to improved care for the patient will be just as important as the innovation that goes into the development of new compounds and molecular entities.

Upward mobility is not only about increased access to the Internet through mobile devices – it is also about the increased ability of stakeholders to develop and employ new approaches to healthcare.

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