Digital health adoption is rising, but data security, wearable use are barriers and facetime still matters

Consumers are increasingly adopting digital health tools to command greater control of their healthcare. However, challenges like data accuracy and security affect usage, and face-to-face contact with their providers actually boosts satisfaction with telehealth, a new survey shows.

Those reservations should be glaring symbols to providers about where improvements are needed to spurn more adoption of digital health solutions.

Rock Health’s third annual national consumer survey reflects three years of data from 2015 to 2015, which was deployed to 4000 U.S. adults.

According to the survey, five drivers that should inform digital health innovation include whether the technology: empowers patients; gives patients and providers the information they need to navigate the healthcare system; enables health data ownership such that patients can access and share their medical records and information with trusted entities; and improves access to care and helps lower healthcare costs so patients have affordable options.

The survey showed an upward trend in consumer adoption of digital tools to take control of their healthcare, including telemedicine, wearables and online reviews of providers. Results showed respondents who had started using at least one digital health tool went from 80 percent in 2015 to 87 percent in 2017.

Online health information tools and online provider reviews were by far the most used. Interestingly, those with chronic conditions who stand to reap significant benefits from using digital health tools to help manage their illness proved selective in their adoption, signaling an area in which providers should be looking to innovate appealing solutions that will entice greater adoption.

Overall, respondents who were using digital health tools said they got what they were looking for with the experience. Though respondents said they preferred in-person visits, 69 percent of those who paid out of pocket for a telemedicine visit said they were “extremely satisfied.”

The results show that digital solutions are not reaching those who likely need them most, as those experiencing health challenges want to track their goals but are not using digital apps to do it. For instance, of those tracking their blood pressure, only 11 percent are using a digital app or journal. 

Also, 64 percent of respondents reported tracking their weight, but only 20 percent of them were using a digital app. Moreover, wearables are hitting a wall, with users discontinuing use. Of the 24 percent of respondents that own a wearable device or smart watch, roughly a quarter say they don’t use it anymore and 20 percent said they stopped using the device because it wasn’t effective.

“Companies must figure out how to deliver long-term value to ensure sustainable customer engagement, even if users hit health goals along the way,” Rock Health said.

Seniors represent the greatest opportunity to improve health but they are the least likely to use digital health tools. Chronically ill seniors create the biggest demand, as 86 percent visited a doctor at least twice in the last year and 97 percent are managing at least one prescription. 

Yet they showed low use rates of live video telemedicine, digital health goal tracking and wearable use. Providers hoping to grow their use of digital health tools might want to consider targeting this population with education campaigns on the benefits of digital health tools and incorporating conversation about these tools during appointments.

Online reviews are a celebrated digital tool, with 58 percent said they had searched for an online review of a provider, up from 50 percent in 2015, and 27 to 40 percent of respondents said they too action based on provider online reviews.

Providers hoping to grow their digital health solutions, take heed: Your success will hinge on whether your patients feel they can trust you data security. While many respondents are willing to share health data with their physician, 58 percent are willing to share their information with health insurance companies and 52 percent with pharmacies. 

Respondents’ confidence in those entities’ data security showed a clear relation, with 87 percent of respondents saying they were confident or somewhat confident in their physician’s data security, 60 percent confident in their health insurance company and 68 percent confident in their pharmacy’s data security.

Despite the possible allure and convenience of telemedicine, a patient’s relationship with their provider still matters, and they still want facetime. Respondents who had a prior in-person visit with their provider before having a telemedicine visit expressed greater satisfaction with that telemedicine experience. 

The numbers showed 92 percent of respondents who had a prior in-person visit were satisfied with their video visit, compared to just 53 percent who had not had that in-person visit first. Video conferencing and picture texting were the two forms of telemedicine that saw the highest satisfaction rates provided there was a prior in-person visit.

This should be a clue to providers that telemedicine should never completely replace in-person time with patients, and that patient experience can be enhanced by telemedicine if there is a solid relationship in place that is still based on face-to-face time. Telemedicine programs built on this premise might see greater success and higher rate of adoption.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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