Review: US Public Survey of Mobile Health Technology

The paper reviewed here is ‘Public Views of Mobile Medical Devices and Services: A US National Survey of Consumer Sentiments Towards RFID Healthcare Technology’ by James Katz and Ronald Rice. As the title suggests, this paper is about mobile healthcare technology. The authors refer to RFID which stands for Radio-frequency Identification which is a means for geographically locating a chip using a radio-frequency emission from that same chip. At the time of writing, this technology appears to have been used in a number of transport systems across the world, for instance at toll booths or in some railway services or in other cases to ‘label’ assets to keep control of stock.  However another application is in healthcare and there has been some suggestion that the devices could be used to avert medication errors by containing valuable medical information that can be read by relevant devices. The most extreme example of suggested healthcare technologies are those in which the devices are implanted although I wasn’t entirely clear on why this would be necessary as a bracelet would contain necessary localising information. The most obvious healthcare applications are those in which the position of the device is used to estimate movement and indirectly therefore energy expenditure. The authors set out to see what the public’s (US) views were on the health applications of this emerging technology. The authors note in their introduction

As to RFID technology, a 2006 press release said that the technology is being used in areas such as laboratory analysis, mammograms, blood transfusions, medication delivery, prostate treatment, and LASIK eye surgery

In the introduction, the authors note a 2003 study in which the participants were largely unaware of the technology and of those that were aware of this technology, a small percentage viewed the technology ‘unfavourably’ due to health and privacy concerns they held. In the present study, the researchers sampled 1404 americans over the age of 17 using ‘random-digit dialing’. Thus already there will be some selection bias towards those that are in their house or have access to the landline at the time the researchers call and who are also willing to complete the survey. They checked the sample characteristics however and they were comparable to general population data from the US Census Bureau. They used 4 sets of questions

1. Questions relating to ‘general new video and text services for mobile phones’

2. Questions relating to ‘interest in potential healthcare services’

3. Questions relating to ‘trust, social support, and several Internet and privacy topics’

4. Questions relating to standard demographics

They asked about RFID’s on either mobile phones or else attached to the arm using ‘long lasting tape’. For the first set of questions, 71.2% favoured having a ‘hotline to the doctor’ and nearly a quarter were interested in having regular health updates. In the second set of questions, the researchers found that there was an emerging hierarchy of responses with emergency information and financial (although the insurance aspects of US healthcare policy at the time of writing should be borne in mind) favoured over health information updates. Interestingly if the more ‘invasive’ long lasting tape option was used respondents were more likely to rate the health information updates unfavourably. Regarding the third set of questions, the respondents average response indicated that they felt that too much information was given to companies and that understandably, people should have the right to control their personal information. In terms of the demographics, 54.3% were female and 77% white/caucasian with 29.6% being college graduates, 63.1% being married and 18.5% reporting income of at least $100,000 per annum.

What I found particularly interesting in this study was that there was a favouring of the use of mobile technology for emergency healthcare advice over the use for monitoring. I wasn’t entirely clear on many of the healthcare applications of RFID at this point and this might become clearer as time goes on. There didn’t appear to be strong feelings against or for the technologies on the whole from this paper although in very specific areas there were as the responses regarding emergency healthcare suggest. The results might well be different and indeed heterogenous were 10 or more viable and functioning healthcare applications presented for consideration by participants and I wonder if the framing of a more general question about the use of a technology (as in this study) is as useful as for very specific applications. The additional question which is quite useful is how much such surveys are predictive of the incorporation of such technologies into wider culture.


James Katz and Ronald Rice. Public Views of Mobile Medical Devices and Services: A US National Survey of Consumer Sentiments Towards RFID Healthcare TechnologyInternational Journal of Medical Informatics. 78. 2009. 104-114.


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog


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