US Pharm. 2013;38(9):49-60.
ABSTRACT: Mobile applications offer a convenient way to access
information. Knowing how health care professionals (HCPs) view and use
these tools will enhance existing applications and create new ways of
making medical/drug information accessible. HCPs’ willingness to use
general mobile applications, as well as those available from
pharmaceutical companies, was assessed via an electronic survey. Many
HCPs use general mobile applications to obtain medical/drug information,
and some would use a mobile application offered by a pharmaceutical
One of the main responsibilities of a pharmaceutical company is to
supply health care professionals (HCPs) with the best available
information relevant to appropriate product use.1 As the drug
manufacturer, the pharmaceutical company has an obligation to provide
accurate information that is in the patient’s best interest. Drug
information centers/departments within pharmaceutical companies are
considered a resource for rapid, accurate, and concise information about
drugs.2 Given the extensive information available today via a
wide variety of sources and platforms, tools for accessing these data
quickly and efficiently can be a valuable service for a pharmaceutical
company to offer.3
Mobile applications can potentially revolutionize how information is
managed in the health care industry and allow HCPs to rapidly obtain the
information they need. Although the data in a pharmaceutical
medical/drug information mobile application (PM/DIMA) may be similar to
that available on a pharmaceutical company’s Web site, accessing data in
real time through mobile devices and other new channels has emerged as a
source of medical information. Wireless technologies such as handheld
messaging devices, smartphones, and electronic organizers and tablets
have become increasingly popular. About 850 million people own at least
one mobile phone.4 Currently, there is little published
research on the utilization and preferred functionality of mobile
applications for delivery of medical information.5
The purpose of this study was to evaluate utilization patterns of
mobile applications and HCPs’ willingness to use mobile applications to
obtain medical information from pharmaceutical companies. The results of
this study will enable pharmaceutical companies to benchmark their
practices of supplying medical information to HCPs. The information
revealed in this study could enhance the role of technology in medical
information and create novel methods of providing information to HCPs.
Study Design and Population: This study was a
prospective, observational, cross-sectional, electronic survey. A
branched survey was developed and loaded into Inquisite Survey, a
standard feedback-management platform. The target population was HCPs
who contacted a pharmaceutical company with a medical information
inquiry and received a medical information response (MIR) via e-mail
during the 30-day period from December 14, 2011, to January 13, 2012.
The study was reviewed and exempted by the University of the Sciences
Institutional Review Board.
Survey Design: Survey questions were developed
and reviewed by medical information professionals and HCPs for content
validity, and HCPs tested each question to ensure comprehension and
appropriate time commitment. Mobile application was defined as
software that runs on multiple devices such as smartphones, tablets, and
other mobile devices (e.g., iPhone, iPad, Droid). The survey explained
that although many different types of mobile applications exist, the
focus here was on applications used to educate HCPs on medical/drug
information. PM/DIMA was defined as an application used to provide medical/drug information from a pharmaceutical company.
A link to the survey was provided in an e-mail template that HCPs
received along with the MIR. Receipt of the link allowed the recipient
to voluntarily click and record his or her answers. The e-mail template
also informed the recipient of the survey topic and explained that the
entire process would take less than 5 minutes. The survey could be taken
any time during the 30-day period. The survey link was sent only once,
with no reminder e-mails.
Some questions incorporated multiple branching. Depending upon the
HCP’s answer to one of these questions, the question that followed was
generated based on a predetermined flow diagram. Questions examined the
HCP’s current utilization of mobile applications, the HCP’s willingness
to use a mobile application from a pharmaceutical company, and key
features the HCP would find beneficial. Key features were broken down
into general versus specific functions. General functions encompassed
the pharmaceutical company as a whole, and specific functions pertained
to medical information in particular. See APPENDIX 1 for the full survey.
If “other” (when applicable) was selected as a response, the
participant had the option to type in free text to clarify his or her
answer and provide more detail. Thus, participants were not forced to
select a response that did not apply to them. Text entry boxes were
included in order to collect as much information as possible and to
enhance the depth of reported responses.
If a question was not answered, a message reminding the participant
to go back and finish any unanswered questions appeared at the end of
the survey. If at any point a participant no longer wished to
participate, he or she had the ability to opt out of the survey.
Study Endpoints: This study examined which health care
mobile applications HCPs currently utilize; HCPs’ interest in obtaining
medical/drug information via a mobile application offered by a
pharmaceutical company; and key features HCPs would find beneficial in a
PM/DIMA. The primary endpoint was to assess HCPs’ interest in and
likelihood of obtaining medical/drug information from a pharmaceutical
company via a mobile application (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being
“least likely” and 5 being “most likely”). Secondary endpoints included
HCPs’ existing usage of medical/drug mobile applications across the
health care industry; key features HCPs would find useful in a
medical/drug mobile application offered by a pharmaceutical company; and
reasons that an HCP would be hesitant to use a mobile application to
access medical/drug information from a pharmaceutical company.
Statistics: Descriptive statistics and graphs were used to analyze the data. Results were reported as frequencies and percentages.
Baseline Demographics: The opportunity to participate
in the survey was offered to 1,693 HCPs who contacted the medical
information center over the noted 30-day time frame. Sixty-three HCPs
completed the survey, yielding a response rate of 3.7%. Twelve
additional HCPs who partially completed the survey were not included in
the analysis because it was impossible to determine at which point an
individual abandoned the survey. The age range of the majority of HCPs
was 30 to 39 years (25.4%), followed by 20 to 29 years (22.2%) and ≥60
years (19.0%). Most HCPs were pharmacists (66.7%); the rest were
physicians (14.3%), “other” (9.5%), physician assistants (4.8%), nurse
practitioners (3.2%), and nurses (1.6%). “Other” comprised a pharmacy
student, social worker, research assistant, and pharmacy intern (all, n =
1). Four of six HCPs who answered “other” specified their profession in
the comment field.
Current Use of Mobile Applications: When asked
about their current use of mobile applications, 66.7% of HCPs indicated
that they currently access medical/drug information via a general mobile
application, such as Micromedex or Epocrates (FIGURE 1). Of the
42 HCPs who stated that they use a mobile application to access
medical/drug information, 90.5% currently do not use a PM/DIMA (FIGURE 2).
Frequency of Mobile Applications Use: Of the 42 HCPs
who said that they currently use general medical/drug mobile
applications, “greater than seven times a week” was the most common
response (54.8%) for frequency of accessing medical/drug information via
a general mobile application. This was followed by “five to seven times
a week” (26.2%), “two to four times a week” (11.9%), and “once a week”
(7.1%). The largest proportion of HCPs (40.5%) identified Lexicomp as
the general medical/drug application most frequently used to access
information. This was followed by Epocrates (26.2%), Micromedex (19.0%),
Medscape (7.1%), and “other” (7.1%). WebMD, another possible option,
was not chosen. Responses for “other” included Clinical Pharmacology (n =
1), Google (n = 1), and UpToDate (n = 1). For the four HCPs currently
using a PM/DIMA, responses were evenly distributed among “once a week,”
“two to four times a week,” “five to seven times a week,” and “greater
than seven times a week” (all, 25%).
Interest in PM/DIMAs: Among the 59 HCPs not
currently using a PM/DIMA, 27.1% were interested in using a mobile
application from a pharmaceutical company, 44.1% “may be interested,”
and 28.8% were not interested (FIGURE 3). The highest percentage
of HCPs rated their likelihood of accessing medical/drug information via
a PM/DIMA (on a scale of 1 to 5, with “1” being least likely and “5”
being most likely) as “3” or “4” (31.0% each) (FIGURE 4). When
likelihood levels were collapsed, 45.2% of HCPs were likely (“4” and
“5”) to use a PM/DIMA, whereas 23.8% were unlikely (“1” and “2”) to use a
General and Specific Functions Desired: To
elicit HCPs’ opinions about beneficial functions in a PM/DIMA, questions
on general versus specific functions desired were included. The ability
to contact a therapeutic/drug specialist (85.7%) was the most
beneficial general function when using a mobile application from a
pharmaceutical company, followed by the ability to contact a patient
assistance program (61.9%) (FIGURE 5). All four HCPs currently
using a PM/DIMA felt that the ability to contact a therapeutic/drug
specialist and to report adverse event/product quality complaints would
be beneficial. Access to clinical data/drug information (88.1%) was the
most important specific function when using a PM/DIMA, followed by
access to prescribing information (PI) (73.8%) (FIGURE 6). All
four HCPs currently using a PM/DIMA desired access to clinical data/drug
information, and three (75%) felt that access to PI and directly
submitting medical/drug information requests would be beneficial.
Display Features Desired: When HCPs were asked about
display features in PM/DIMAs, the most desired option was “PI” (61.9%).
Other desirable features were “submit a question” (59.5%), “professional
resources” (57.1%), “patient resources” (47.6%), “contact us” (38.1%),
and “search bar” (14.3%). The options “saved searches” and “other” were
not chosen by any participant. Three of the four HCPs (75%) currently
using a PM/DIMA wanted “PI” and “professional resources” to be
displayed, and the remaining HCP wanted “saved searches,” “patient
resources,” “contact us,” and “submit a question.”
Reasons to Not Use a PM/DIMA: Seventeen HCPs said that
they would not use a mobile application from a pharmaceutical company.
The top reasons for not using a PM/DIMA were perception of biased
information and unavailability of a smartphone or mobile device (both,
The use of smartphones in the health care industry has been rapidly
expanding and offers convenience and efficiency that may not necessarily
be achieved with traditional desktop computers. In 2004, about 25% of
practicing U.S. physicians used a personal digital assistant (PDA) or
smartphone; by 2008, the number had increased to about 35% to 40%. By
2010, more than 50% of physicians were utilizing PDAs or smartphones on a
regular basis for everyday treatment activity.6 This survey
shows a similar trend, with more than half of participants using a
general medical/drug mobile application; however, only a small
proportion also used a PM/DIMA. This may be due to a lack of awareness
about this method of obtaining medical/drug information, since only a
few PM/DIMAs are currently available.
More than half of participants stated that, given the opportunity,
they would be or may be interested in using a mobile application from a
pharmaceutical company. Current literature describes the benefits of
mobile technology in revolutionizing the way physicians practice
medicine. The smartphone is considered a new tool that will allow
physicians to become efficient in their daily activities while providing
their patients with clinically up-to-date care.7 With
increased awareness and a greater availability of PM/DIMAs, this could
be another potential approach HCPs use to efficiently obtain the
information they need.
The ability to contact a therapeutic/drug specialist appears to be
the most important general function desired in a PM/DIMA. This
emphasizes the importance of the specialist’s availability to engage in a
scientific discussion with the HCP. A PM/DIMA could enable greater
convenience in contacting a specialist. For example, HCPs could schedule
an appointment with a specialist at their convenience or could employ
novel methods of communication, such as instant messaging or video chat.
Access to clinical data/drug information appears to be the most
important specific function desired when using a mobile application,
followed by access to PI. HCPs are often busy, with limited time for
calling pharmaceutical companies. The ability to access clinical
information from a drug manufacturer directly from a mobile device could
save HCPs valuable time. Another timesaver would be the ability to save
previously viewed inquiries for future reference. This could be
particularly useful for frequently asked questions or topics that HCPs
One of the top reasons participants gave for not using a PM/DIMA was
the perception of biased information. Considering that these
participants had initially called a pharmaceutical company for medical
information, an explanation for why they believe the information is
biased is worth seeking.
Currently, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, no other published
studies have evaluated HCPs’ utilization of mobile applications to
access medical information from pharmaceutical companies. This is the
first survey of its kind to examine the use of PM/DIMAs. Given that
literature investigating the functionality and utilization of mobile
applications is limited, larger studies are needed to obtain additional
insights into the use of novel methods for disseminating medical
A major limitation of this study was the low response rate. It was
difficult to anticipate an accurate response rate, since to the best of
the authors’ knowledge, this was the first survey of its kind. Potential
reasons for a low response rate could be the inability to send survey
reminders or to recontact participants (because of health care
compliance issues and company policy). Additionally, dissemination of
the survey at a time other than the holiday season could have generated
more responses. Compensation could have been provided to increase the
response rate; however, this was not pursued owing to company policy.
Because of the low response rate, the results may not be representative
of the general population of HCPs, and this may have introduced
The survey indicates that, overall, HCPs are utilizing general mobile
applications to obtain medical/drug information. Additionally, there
appears to be some interest in using a medical/drug mobile application
offered by a pharmaceutical company. A multifaceted mobile application
with a variety of functions for the end user would appear to increase
its value and provide added benefit for HCPs. Many HCPs question which
mobile applications are valid sources of medical/drug information. For a
user to commit to one application, the information must be accurate and
from a dependable source. A trustworthy and reliable manufacturer could
be a useful source of information.
Potential outcomes of this research include the identification of
opportunities to improve upon existing technological platforms and the
creation of future applications. As medical information platforms
continue to evolve, an understanding of customers’ expectations is
essential for adapting to transforming technologies.
Future research could assess compliance processes and the regulatory
landscape involved in using novel channels for medical information. As
new social media initiatives move forward, an understanding of how to
best provide medical information is critical and could impact patient
care through the safe use of medications. Pharmaceutical companies
should continue to investigate unique and innovative ways to provide
accurate and timely medical/drug information to HCPs.
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3. Kho A, Henderson LE, Dressler DD, Kripalani S. Use of handheld computers in medical education. A systematic review. J Gen Intern Med. 2006;21:531-537.
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5. Choi JS, Yi B, Park JH, et al. The uses of the smartphone for doctors: an empirical study from Samsung Medical Center. Healthc Inform Res. 2011;17:131-138.
6. Merrill M. Kalorama: medical mobile app market worth $84.1M.
Healthcare IT News. www.healthcareitnews.com/print/21756. Accessed May
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DECLARATIONS: Poster presented at the Drug Information Association
Medical Communications Workshop, Orlando, FL, March 4–7, 2012. The
authors received no financial support for the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article. Steve Ascher is an employee of
Janssen Research & Development, LLC, and is a Johnson & Johnson
stockholder. Purnima J. Topiwala is an employee of Janssen Scientific
Affairs, LLC, and is a Johnson & Johnson stockholder.
NOTE: The authors acknowledge the following people for their
assistance in this study: Jennifer Kern Sliwa, PharmD, BCPP, Director,
CNS Medical Information, Janssen Scientific Affairs, LLC; Michael
Cuozzo, PharmD, Director, Crisis Management, McNeil Consumer Healthcare;
Sarah Spinler, PharmD, FCCP, FCPP, FAHA, FASHP, AACC, BCPS (AQ
Cardiology), Professor of Clinical Pharmacy, Residency Programs
Coordinator, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the
Sciences; and Samit Shah, PharmD, Manager, Digital Content Strategy,
Janssen Scientific Affairs, LLC.
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