Patient Demand For Digital Health Tools May Exceed Providers’ Ability To Deliver

Posted on March 15, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

It’s taken a long time, but it looks like consumers are getting serious about using digital tools to improve their health. According to a new survey by Accenture, in some cases consumers are actually more interested in using such tools than their providers are, researchers found.

Patients are taking advantage of a wide range of digital health options, including mobile tech (46%), accessing electronic health records (38%), social media (35%), wearable technology (33%), smart scales (27%), remote consultations (16%) and remote monitoring (14%). All of these numbers are up from 2017, notably mobile and access to electronic health records, use of which grew 10% and 9% respectively.

The survey also notes that the number of consumers receiving virtual healthcare services has increased since last year, from 21% in 2017 to 25% this year. Seventy-four percent of those accessing virtual care were satisfied with the encounter. Meanwhile, about three-quarters of consumers said they would use virtual care for after-hours appointments, and about two-thirds would choose this option for follow-up appointments after seeing a doctor in person.

Key takeaways for clinicians, meanwhile, include that while patients agree that in-person visits provide quality care, engage patients in their health care decisions and diagnose problems faster, virtual visits offer some significant advantages too. Virtual care benefits they identified include reducing medical costs to patients, accommodating patient schedules and providing timely care, respondents said.

Clinicians should also note that AI-based virtual doctors may someday become the competition. When asked whether they would use an AI virtual doctor provided by their provider, some were doubtful, with 29% saying they prefer visiting the doctor, 26% that they didn’t understand enough about how AI works, and 23% that they did not want to share their data.

However, 47% said they would choose a virtual doctor because it would be available whenever they needed it. Also, 36% said they’d use a virtual doctor because it would save time by avoiding a trip to the doctor, and 24% said they’d like to access a virtual doctor because the AI would have access to large amounts of relevant information.

Right now, it’s far more likely that hospitals will have the capacity to deliver such services, which may demand a higher level of IT expertise and staff time that many medical practices have available. Nonetheless, it seems likely that at some point, medical practices will need to offer more digital services if they want to remain competitive.