Euoropean healthcare experts have clashed over the need for pharmacy to invest in mobile health.
Mobile technology had the potential to boost medicines adherence and build customer loyalty, speakers from Lloydspharmacy and the European Commission told the annual general meeting of the European Association of Pharmaceutical Full-line Wholesalers (GIRP) in Vienna on Monday (June 2).
But John Chave, general secretary of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union, warned that the opportunities for using this technology were often "overhyped".
In an exclusive interview with C+D, Mr Chave questioned whether there was a significant demand for mobile health. "There aren't that many people using complex health apps, for example for adherence purposes," explained Mr Chave, who represents pharmacist organisations across Europe. "I sometimes feel the industry pushing mobile health overlooks the fact that patients like face-to-face care."
The smartphone is the ideal health coach because it is never more than two metres away from us, says Max Wellan, president of the Austrian Chamber of Pharmacists
More on the use of technology in pharmacy
The group most in need of health support – the elderly – was the least likely to own a smartphone, Mr Chave added.
Emily Kelly, director of sales and marketing at Lloydspharmacy Ireland, admitted that the elderly were less likely to use mobile technology.
But she stressed that a "mix of people" were using Lloydspharmacy's MyMed app, which works alongside monitored dosage systems to increase adherence. The app was particularly useful for carers of elderly patients, she said, and Lloydspharmacy had reaped rewards from its popularity.
"For us, [the app] has been brilliant in increasing our prescription items and loyalty," Ms Kelly told the conference. The app had made a "huge difference" to some patients, who reported being "less anxious" about taking their medication as a result, she added.
Max Wellan, president of representative body the Austrian Chamber of Pharmacists, gave further backing to the potential of mobile technology to boost adherence. "The smartphone is the ideal health coach because it's never further than two metres away from us," he said. "Things like adherence tools are ideal with the smartphone."
The European Commission estimated that the value of the mobile health market in Europe would exceed £4 million by 2017. "I think mobile health is growing so rapidly [that] there is a great potential to improve healthcare, create significant savings and, ultimately, empower patients," said Paul Timmers, director of the commission's sustainable and secure society division.
The European Commission is consulting on how to develop the mobile health market until July 3 and hopes to take action on the findings next year.
At the Avicenna conference in Bali last week, Alliance Healthcare commercial director John Pignone said that the proportion of the UK population who owned a smartphone meant there was a market for more mobile health apps.
Do you think mobile technology is the way forward for pharmacy?