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Digital Health Adoption

By March 31, 2020Commentary

Let’s take a break from all the coronavirus talk and return to one of my favorite whipping boys, digital health.  Accenture has issued a report on trends in digital health, and comes to the conclusion that adoption is stalling.   (Accenture Report)  The report is one of an annual series and this one is based on a survey of over 7800 consumers in seven countries.  Digital health covers a lot of ground, including telehealth like virtual care, as well as the plethora of mobile and non-mobile apps that help people track various aspects of health and health care.  The headline is, gee, what a surprise, mobile app/digital health use was flat or actually declined in some areas in the last year.  One-third of adults are using no digital health tools.  From 2018 to 2020, use of mobile devices and mobile apps went down from 48% to 35% and use of wearable technology from 33% to 18%.  Can you say the party’s over?  The drop was particularly pronounced among younger users, aged 18 to 34, going from 63% to 50% for mobile apps and from 43% to 26% for wearables.  Use was lower but held relatively steady for older adults.  Less than a majority of users say that the use of digital health has increased their awareness and focus on health and only around 20% say it has helped improve their interactions with providers.  Consumers generally agree that having a bad digital experience with a provider might lead them to look elsewhere for care and a minority say that having very good digital health capabilities might be a reason for them to select a particular provider.  While over 80% of consumers trust hospitals and doctors to keep their data secure and private, there is substantially less trust in government or big tech companies.  Privacy and security concerns appear to be the main reason for the slowing or decline in use of digital health.

Consumers’ enthusiasm for virtual care is higher, with over 40% being willing to use telehealth for most kinds of health care interactions, with young people being more amenable to the concept.  It is obvious why enthusiasm may be stalling for digital health, at least the mobile app aspect.  People don’t perceive the value that has been hyped.  It is just not apparent that there is any meaningful impact on either quality or cost outcomes.  So it seems kind of fun for awhile to use the app, but that fun aspect tends to diminish after a while.  The report was issued before coronavirus blew up.  One very good thing that might come out of the epidemic is removal of barriers to telehealth, which generally has lower unit costs and obviously improves access.  These barriers include consumer wariness, privacy and security concerns, but most importantly, state regulatory licensing barriers, which have no justification, and federal and state reimbursement conditions that also often make little sense.  I don’t think much of the mobile app world, but telehealth has enormous potential, in my judgment, and should be encouraged to the greatest extent possible.

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