Guess which smartphone your doctor carries?

Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android?  Which sells more? Well, if you were to look at overall market share, the answer is Android (in smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy, LG, Motorola, etc.)

In fact, a recent Nielson’s survey reported that Android reached 51.8% market share in the U.S. compared to Apple’s 34.3%.  Android has enjoyed a sharp rise in popularity since its debut just four short years ago.

But according to Emergency Medicine physician Dr. Iltifat Husain, founder and editor-in-chief of iMedicalApps, Android has not seemed able to gain the same popularity in at least one target market, and that market is health care professionals. Apple’s dominance in medicine is well documented, in fact.  A 2011 study found that over 75% of physicians own an Apple mobile device.

Dr. Husain explains that when Vitera Healthcare Solutions conducted a survey of health care professionals, they found the most common mobile devices used among healthcare professionals were:

  • iPhone (60%)
  • iPad (45%)
  • Android phone (38%)
  • Android tablet (3%)

Another study that tracked which mobile device 550,000 health care providers used to read their daily email briefings over an 8-month period last year found that over 90% of these briefings were being read on an iOS device (iPhone and iPad) compared to just 6% on Android.

So why have Apple mobile devices continued to gain market share among health care professionals, bucking the opposite retail trend happening within the population at large?

According to Medical App Journal, some industry insiders have cited the simplicity of Apple devices as the primary reason for their popularity in health care:

“Health care providers encounter complexity on a continual basis throughout their day.   They manage complex patients who require them to engage in complex decision-making.  They use complex technical equipment that requires mastery of user-interfaces that are anything but user-friendly. 

“The Apple operating system presents an oasis of simplicity and user friendliness that is irresistible when contrasted with the ubiquitous complexity of their work environment.”

Tim Bajarin thinks so, too.  Writing in TIME last May, the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. declared bluntly that if a tech product is not easy to use, it is worthless to the consumer. He applauded Apple’s commitment to ease of use, adding:

“All of the products (Apple) creates have to be intuitive and easy to understand and learn.

“As technology has become more intricate and users want more features, the task of keeping things simple is sometimes difficult. Apple is the only company I deal with where ease of use is more important than the product itself. Apple makes this a critical goal of its approach to creating anything for the market.”

But others contend that the reason docs love Apple might be more straightforward than this.

Maybe health care professionals prefer Apple products for the same reason so many of the rest of us do: good design, aesthetics, reliability, customer service.

After all, even PC World staff writers Narasu Rebbapragada and Alan Stafford raved:

“Apple is so basically innovative an organization that it essentially serves as the R&D arm of the entire technology industry.”

It may well be the applications available for mobile devices that are driving Apple’s dominance among health care professionals (and there are now over 40,000 mobile health apps contributing to a $718 million global industry).  Dr. Husain believes that expanding uses for mobile devices in health care are being driven, at least partially, by the influx of medical apps into app stores.

As he says, as long as medical app developers continue to choose Apple over Android, medical app consumers will most likely continue to follow suit:

“Medical app developers will almost always produce an app on the iOS platform first, before going to Android.  In our experience at iMedicalApps, we have yet to see a popular medical app being produced on the Android platform first.

“Even the New England Journal of Medicine — one of the standard peer review journals in medicine — has produced multiple apps for the iOS platform, yet nothing for Android.”

And speaking of apps, dozens of faculty, staff and students in multiple departments at Johns Hopkins University are participating in 49 official studies underway in Baltimore and around the world as part of its Global mHealth Initiative to evaluate health apps.  Study director Dr. Alain B. Labrique told the Baltimore Sun:

“A lot of the apps you see out now have a disclaimer, or should have a disclaimer, that they have not been validated through rigorous research. It comes down to the individuals’ perceptions that the app works for them.”

The Johns Hopkins initiative aims to evaluate which strategies can aid doctors, community health workers and consumers in ways equal to other more traditional methods.  The findings may very well shape health apps developed and sold in the future.

The international research firm Research2Guidance predicts that the number of people downloading a health app at least once this year will reach 247 million, up from 124 million in 2011.

That health app is likely to be found in the Apple store, because developers themselves make more money working on the iOS platform than Android. Developers have also cited problems with Android’s security and distribution model.

Meanwhile, Dr. Husain offers these three basic reasons that the iPhone is considered the tool of choice for those working in health care:

  • superior App Store
  • integration with iOS devices, namely the iPad
  • lack of fragmentation

Health care professionals, as Medical App Journal summarizes, are now using their mobile devices in increasingly varied and creative ways:

  • as powerful reference tools
  • as medical calculators
  • as an interface with medical instruments
  • even as an intervention to ‘prescribe’ to a patient for them to download to their own mobile device

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5 thoughts on “Guess which smartphone your doctor carries?

  1. Android has become the default installation for most manufacturers, and therefore is used by a large number of consumers who just want a cheap smartphone and are not tech-savvy.

    They have not chosen Android specifically, it is just what their phone came with. These users barely actually use the smartphone functionality of their phones. The stats show that iOS dominates in terms of web usage, app downloads (particularly paid downloads) etc.

    This would help explain the disparity in percentage of general ownership and markets where the functionality is key.

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