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Mobile Technology and Healthcare

Student using phone to learn at bus stop

Mobile difference patterns are also beginning to emerge in the pursuit of health information on mobile devices. A Pew survey (Fox 2010) found that 78% of wireless Internet users had looked online for health information, compared to 70% of Internet users with desktop access. Previous research by Pew had shown that wireless connections were associated with deeper engagement in health-related social media, with mobile Internet users more likely than those with tethered access to post comments and reviews online about health and health care (Fox and Jones 2009). From a health perspective, the Vodafone Group report (2006) highlighted NHS Direct increasing access to NHS services amongst users aged between 16 and 44. This age bracket had traditionally been low users of services, but was now most likely to use NHS Direct and to use a mobile phone whilst doing so. The enhanced privacy offered by a mobile phone was deemed to be very important to some groups - with teenage girls notable in their much greater reliance on using mobile phones to contact NHS Direct. In the US, a Pew mobile health survey documented that 85% of adults used a mobile phone and of those, 31% had used it to look up health or medical information with 42% of mobile owners aged 18 to 29 having done such searches (Fox and Duggan 2012).

The small screen size of mobile devices has been proposed as a potential barrier to usability (Pulman 2010). The size issue and lack of keyboard can occasionally be seen as an obstacle for individuals seeking mobile health information or support via a social network (Haddon 2008) - especially for those whose condition affected their dexterity or eyesight. Other negatives might include the risk of engendering dependence on mobile technology (Pinnock et al. 2007) and the possibility of having privacy violated (Waldron et al. 2000). Hitting the wrong key and sending a reply to a group instead of an individual, or posting an instant ill-conceived global public tweet instead of a more considered, personalised direct message is a common occurrence online (Bates 2013). The small size of mobile keypads coupled with the more immediate manner of communication that they encourage, make this more likely to occur on a mobile platform. Although these findings point to compromised usability, the newer versions of many smartphones now have improved larger touch screen layouts with more innovative, user-friendly interfaces. These are helping to offset concerns and increase popularity (Sherwood 2010), alongside the increasing use of mobile tablets which have larger screens.