Alternative Media: Mobile Marketing

Through PDAs, marketers have found an efficient way to communicate with and educate physicians.
Sep 30, 2005


Jeffrey Tangney
Mobile computers are everywhere these days. Almost every theater, airplane, and cocktail party is alive with the familiar glowing, beeping, clicking, and picture taking of smartphones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other mobile electronic devices. With the Gartner Group predicting that more than 80 million of these devices will be sold by the end of 2005, PDAs are quickly becoming part of mainstream life.

While technology enthusiasts have trumpeted the coming of the wireless Web for years, few expected that doctors would help lead the adoption. And fewer still expected that pharmaceutical companies—not consumer brands—would jump on the mobile trend, into this age of m-(for mobile)marketing. But indeed they have. Today, more than half of all US physicians now use mobile computers and many of the top pharmaceutical companies have a well-established mobile-marketing program.

This article explores the rise of new technology in a traditionally techno-phobic industry. It explains why so many doctors are using mobile computers, how pharmaceutical companies have pioneered m-marketing (and what kind of ROI they have seen), and why, in hindsight, this all makes perfect sense.

Why Go Mobile?

In 1999, the Wall Street Journal was the first publication to note that PDAs were "a sleeper hit" among physicians. Later in 2001, investment banker W.R. Hambrecht cited "tremendous physician adoption (of PDAs)...a feat not duplicated since the Dictaphone." Four years later, the adoption continues. It is estimated that 57 percent of US physicians use a PDA, according to 2005 Forrester Research data. Furthermore, Gartner research predicted in 2002 that PDA adoption will reach 75 percent by 2007.




Driving this adoption are the unique demands of physicians' workflow. Unlike most professionals, physicians are moving from exam room to exam room, to hospital to clinic during most days. Mobile computers eliminate the need for pockets stuffed with books and notes. This lightens the memory load considerably for physicians since they are often expected to remember entire volumes of disease, drug, and test-related facts and access this knowledge within a moment's time. With a mobile device, they can instantly determine if drug x will interact with drug y, or what the differential diagnosis is for lab result z.

In addition, most mobile-computer programs are continuously updated and can be instantly searched by topic or keyword. As new treatments, guidelines, and drugs are approved, physicians can be notified of this information immediately.

Furthermore, these devices are easy to use and patient-friendly. Most mobile computers fit on a clipboard and require no login to use. Unlike desktop computers, which put a physical barrier between the physician and patient, PDAs allow physicians to maintain face-to-face interaction with their patients. Despite initial fears of causing patient anxiety when referring to their PDAs during visits, physicians have found that patients appreciate the extra effort to ensure proper care.

PDA Dependence

Medical schools have helped to stimulate the proliferation of PDAs among physicians. Roughly 30 percent of them currently require students to use PDAs and an additional 50 percent strongly recommend PDA use. "The future of medical education lies in the adoption of technology, such as mobile and wireless, that connects people, unifies the education process, and enhances learning," says Dr. John Halamka, associate dean at Harvard Medical School.

Many physicians have developed dependency on mobile computers. Accustomed to double-checking drug-drug interactions for every patient within seconds, it can be difficult to return to the more time-consuming process of looking up drugs in a textbook. "I have found that the use of a PDA makes my daily practice more efficient and safer for patients. If I forget my stethoscope I'll borrow one. If I forget my PDA, I'm driving back home," says Brooks Morelock, MD, an internist in Greenville, Tennessee.