We’re seeing a tremendous uptick in physicians who use PDAs and smartphones. According to recent data from Manhattan Research, 64% of U.S. physicians use a smartphone, and 70% rely heavily on data accessed from their mobile device to make clinical decisions.

More than 6,000 apps are now available in the Apple iTunes store alone, and SDI reports that 95% of physicians who own smartphones are saying, “I’ve got a medical app for that.” Epocrates and Skyscape are the most popular, providing instant drug updates, information about drug dosing, potential drug interactions, ICD9 codes, and more. Physicians are also using their mobile devices to access peer-reviewed journal articles, clinical trial results, and medical references to aid diagnostic and treatment decisions. Office-bound computers may become giant paperweights as more physicians use their mobile devices as their primary entry point to the Internet.

What’s ahead: Physician smartphone adoption is expected to reach 81% penetration by 2012, according to Manhattan Research’s “Future of Physician Media.” Nearly half of these physicians will use their mobile device for administrative functions, receiving education, and aiding in patient care. Expect an innovation ramp-up, from new technologies for monitoring patients to QR codes—matrix barcode technology physicians scan with a mobile device to instantly access deeper information about pharma brands. More physicians will be accessing CME programs on the go, receiving their credits via mobile. From a pharma perspective, the most interesting advancement may be the ability for extreme personalization among physicians—and within physician communities—largely due to the availability of detailed and customized information from each mobile user.

My takeaway: It’s critical to understand the role that handheld devices, smartphones, and emerging technologies play in a physician’s daily routine, medical practice, and patient interactions. But it’s dangerous ground to think about relying solely on mobile marketing. Moving forward, marketers need to consider not just the technology-savvy physician, but also the entire networked community of physicians. We must look at the bigger picture of overall digital behavior. According to SDI’s March report, “Mobile & Social Media Study: Physicians’ Views of Emerging Technology,” the type of medical information physicians seek differs greatly by device. How will physicians access digital information beyond mobile? To be effective, mobile marketing needs to be deeply integrated into a multi-channel campaign and should never be a one-off. It’s also a mistake to think that mobile marketing should replace the sales rep. In my opinion, nothing can replace a personal interaction, especially when it comes to building relationships.