Smartphones and tablets are rapidly becoming an integral part of everyday life, including the practice of medicine. I recently had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Rohit Krishna, MD, a pioneer in applying mobile applications to ophthalmology, at an ASCRS Governing Board Retreat, and much of what I will present below comes with his permission from this lecture.
Rohit is a practicing glaucoma specialist and partner at Sabates Eye Centers in Kansas City, Mo., and CEO of a startup called Cloud Nine Development, which is focused on developing valuable mobile apps for the ophthalmologist. Other friends, including Richard Awdeh, MD, a principal in CheckedUp, and David Huang, MD, PhD, in Portland, who is developing smartphone-based screening tools for infants and children, have also intrigued me with their work in this area.
I use an iPhone and iPad regularly along with my trusty laptop. I already have dipped my toe in the water as I educate my patients in the clinic about cataract surgery and IOL options using my iPad with custom materials developed by our Minnesota Eye Consultants director of marketing, Ann Mueller, but I am amazed what these three young ophthalmologists believe the future holds for this field. I encourage those interested to look up these three men on the Web for further information regarding their individual projects, and of course there are many other innovators in the field. In the next few paragraphs, I will share some of their mutual vision of the potential for mobile apps in ophthalmology.
First, a few mind-boggling statistics. As of 2012, 88% of Americans over the age of 18 years have a smartphone. Adults spend more time accessing media through a mobile device than they do with magazines and newspapers combined. Ninety-one percent of owners have their smartphone within 3 feet of their person at all times. As well, my wife and I have discontinued all landlines in our primary and secondary homes and receive faxes and print out material as needed through our smartphones, tablets and laptops. Seventy-nine percent of people use their phone before making a purchasing decision, and more than 50% of mobile phone time is spent using apps.
In 2011, 17.7 billion apps were downloaded, and that is projected to grow to 109 billion in 2015. Health care is the No. 1 mobile app download, and the health care apps download numbers for 2012 were 44 million, expected to grow to 142 million in 2016. U.S. citizens in 2012 spent nearly twice as much time on their mobile apps as they did on the Web. Just when we thought a good website was enough, our patients are moving off the Web into mobile apps on their smartphone or tablet. The number of smartphone users is predicted to exceed 1 billion worldwide by 2014 and 176 million in the U.S. There are 3 billion searches on Google every day. Facebook remains the most popular social media site and alone attracts greater traffic than YouTube, Wikipedia, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo together, so some presence for most ophthalmologists on Facebook seems to me to be an easy recommendation.
Most of us need help to manage such a presence, and we have a young and savvy administrative team and marketing director to help us in our practice. Information overload is reaching exponential growth, with the amount of online information doubling every 12 to 18 months. These are staggering facts and force me to realize that, as a 65-year-old ophthalmologist, my world is changing amazingly fast. It is definitely a challenge to adapt to the future envisioned by these realities, but it is in my opinion a must for the successful practice of the future.
The bottom line according to the pioneers in this area: The smartphone and tablet are critical to the future of your practice and health care in general. The term “digital health” is often used to describe the application of smartphones and tablets to medicine and public health, and digital health, according to many, is the future. These mobile devices and their apps promise to help modernize a practice by improving practice efficiency, enhancing patient education, and marketing and branding you and your partners.
In summary, smartphones and tablets are exploding in number, utilization and functionality worldwide. Not long ago at Minnesota Eye Consultants, we realized we must join the Internet age with a first-class website and electronic medical records. Now we are in the midst of the smartphone and tablet revolution and beginning to realize that we will need our own apps to effectively communicate with our patients and maintain our position as a leading practice in our region. It seems that the challenges are never-ending for the practicing ophthalmologist, but with challenge and change come opportunity. I encourage all my colleagues who wish to maintain an active practice in 2020, or perhaps even 2015, considering the rapid pace of change today and transition to digital health, to start becoming educated about the opportunities inherent in the ongoing mobile revolution.