Telehealth, mHealth see great potential for growth in Asia
Mobile phones and the internet are growing channels through which Asians get their health-related information, although this may leave older and less-educated people behind, according to a recent Singapore study.
“[T]he ability to find and understand relevant quality health information is crucial for patients to participate in medical decision making, especially with the ease of availability of health information online,” the researchers said. “However, to date, there are limited studies that have examined the health seeking behaviour from Asian countries.”
The cross-sectional analysis included 673 respondents, most of whom were from Malaysia (n=512), while the others were from Singapore (n=161). The sample was well-distributed in terms of sex, and majority were ≥41 years of age. Notably, almost all participants had a mobile or smartphone (99.3 percent) and frequently accessed the internet. [Digit Health 2020;doi:10.1177/2055207620956457]
Despite these high rates, less than half of both the Malaysia (43.8 percent) and Singapore (45.0 percent) subgroups reported using their phones to look for health information online. Moreover, only 14.7 percent used a health-related app in their daily lives.
The low rates of using mobile phones for health-related purposes coincided with the participants’ general lack of awareness of mobile health devices, such as Bluetooth glucometers and fitness trackers (65.4 percent).
Nevertheless, participants noted that they were supportive of adopting technologies for such purposes, either using devices to improve their overall health (46.5 percent) or monitoring their blood glucose levels (47.0 percent). Although the overall rates remained below half for both measures, Singaporeans tended to be more open to the idea than Malaysians.
The researchers then performed regression analysis to look for indicators of health-seeking behaviours online and found age to be an important factor. In both Malaysians (odds ratio [OR], 4.35, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 2.56–7.69; p<0.001) and Singaporeans (OR, 3.85, 95 percent CI, 1.69–8.33; p<0.001), younger participants, aged <50 years, were around four times as likely as their older counterparts to look up health information online.
Malaysians who had graduated from college were also significantly more likely to seek information online (OR, 8.25, 95 percent CI, 2.06–33.10; p=0.002); the effect of education was borderline significant in Singaporeans (OR, 18.85, 95 percent CI, 0.85–417.1; p=0.06).
“Given the increasing use of smartphones in the region, there is potential ramifications for public health policies,” the researchers said. “We believe that telehealth could be expanded to a larger population who are receptive towards this technology.”
The present study “may help inform future researchers as well as industrial players on how they could further target their services and products to promote its use in the future,” they added.