Digital health this, digital health that; it’s everywhere. How much is it really being used? How much value can it really provide? What the heck is digital health? The American Medical Association did a survey in 2019 to find out how physicians are using health information and health communication technology. (AMA Report) About 650 primary care and 650 specialty doctors participated. Several categories of digital tools were included: remote monitoring; clinical decision support; patient engagement in health; telehealth visits; point-of-care workflow tools and consumer access to clinical data. Here are some notable results, with comparison to a similar 2016 survey. There was a slight increase, to around 87%, in the number of doctors who think digital health tools have at least some advantages in the care process. Across every category of tool there was an increase in use from 2016 to 2019, for example, 28% of doctors now use tele-visits, compared to 14% in 2016. Remote monitoring rose from about 13% to 22%; clinical decision support from 28% to 37%, patient engagement from 26% to 33%, point of care workflow tools from 42% to 47% and consumer access to data from 53% to 58%. The average number of tools used rose only slightly, from 2.2 to 2.4. You would have to suspect that having one place to access as much of the functionality as possible would be enormously appealing.
Physicians also express high levels of intent to further adopt digital tools, with over 50% saying they do use or will use in the near future every category of the functionality. The primary motivator is use for remote care, which makes sense as that vehicle both creates additional revenue streams and lowers costs for a practice. Tools that improve efficiency, increase patient safety, improve diagnostic abilities or reduce burnout have the highest attraction. Doctors express concerns about having the tools integrated with EHRs, leading to at least as good a care for patients, being covered by malpractice insurance and being secure. While most physicians are familiar with the concepts of artificial intelligence, precision medicine and other newer innovations, very few are using any of them. Physicians expressed a desire to have these tools to serve chronic care patients better. So digital health tools are making progress, but mostly for what I would call administrative purposes. They do have potential to lower costs, increase access and improve productivity, but limiting the hype would be good so that users don’t give up too soon and have more realistic expectations about the impact of these technologies.