OPINION26 November 2015

In the moment, not memories

Healthcare Opinion Technology

Healthcare professionals are increasingly using their smartphones for their work and they are remarkably receptive to responding to online surveys. This is opening up a world of opportunity to gather in-the-moment health and wellbeing data and insight says Paul Mannu


Smartphones have become our close companions; ever ready to come to our aid whenever we find ourselves alone. They are always on hand to interject whenever we need them to settle a discussion by providing a definitive answer to support our argument. They are sharing our behaviours and experiences in ways that no other medium has in the past.

Healthcare physicians are no strangers to this world. Our most recent global survey reveals that 82% of doctors own a smartphone and 77% of doctors use one regularly at work for professional purposes.

Many of us in market research are seeing the vast opportunities this holds to connect with potential respondents. The survey we conducted revealed that 88% of doctors would be happy to participate in surveys using a mobile phone and 80% were happy to participate in a market research online community.

Their boundaries were surprisingly high, with 60% saying they would be happy to spend up to 15 minutes completing an online survey. While they were not averse to staggering research over time to have a longitudinal view-point, simplicity was key to uptake and although they were happy with diverse download exercises we found that they were more reluctant ‘uploaders’ of, for example, video diaries.

So, how are we as researchers using or abusing this service? We’ve all had that experience of ‘please click here to start a short survey’, only to find ourselves thinking ‘when will this end?’ But at a more fundamental level have we failed to really grasp the unique space ‘connected data’ has to ‘be in the moment’?

Within the field of health and well-being, behavioural economics tells us there is quite a difference between the experience of an event and remembering back. If you take what was on the whole a splendid family holiday and have a problem with the hotel bill on the final day, you may experience the ‘peek end rule’ whereby your ‘remembering back’ of an otherwise blissful week is tainted by the most recent event. But had you had a mobile phone ‘pushing’ prompts to you at a couple of points each day, the ‘experiencing self’, averaged moment-to-moment over that week may have conveyed a different, more pleasant history.

Last year we conducted a survey to look at the burden on patients of Crohns’ disease. We explored this difference in terms of pain, stress and other factors and found a wide difference between the ‘remembering self’ (‘over the past two weeks how was your…’) and the ‘experiencing self’ (patients ‘pushed’ a couple of times a day via their smartphone and asked to record their current experience). The results gave us a more accurate picture of what happened and the issue was less reliant on memories (which as we know are reconstructed events).

These findings give us a real opportunity to understand the distinctive value of mobile technology that goes beyond the cheap and cheerful survey. Used alongside traditional methodologies it can enrich our understanding of behaviour by accompanying the participant in day-to-day life in a way that no other method exists to do.

Paul Mannu is master practitioner, Behavioural Insights, Cello Health Insight