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Analysis

Telehealth Tops the List as Physician Digital Health Adoption Increases

By Mandy Roth  
   February 11, 2020

AMA study shows digital health is coming of age as usage among physicians increases in every category measured

With a 100% increase in telehealth usage in three years, and gains in other key categories, physicians seem to be overcoming their resistance to using digital health tools, according to a new American Medical Association (AMA) study, AMA Digital Health Research. Researchers compared data gathered from a similar study in 2016 to input from 1,359 participants in 2019.

While there were increases in every sector measured, telehealth and remote care are driving growth trends, according to the study. Physician adoption of tele-visits/virtual visits doubled from 14% in 2016 to 28% in 2019, exhibiting the largest growth among the digital health tool categories, the study shows.

The highest adoption rates for digital health tools continues to be those that provide secure consumer access to clinical data, with 58% of physicians now reporting this capability. This includes methods to obtain routine lab results, receive appointment reminders and treatment prompts, and request for prescription refills, appointments, or to speak with their physician.

Across the board, usage has increased regardless of gender, age, or specialty. Adoption rates for physician use of digital tools by category between 2016 and 2019 include:

  • Tele-visits/virtual visits doubled from 14% to 28%
     
  • Remote care for improved care rose from 13% to 22%
     
  • Remote monitoring for efficiency grew from 12% to 16%
     
  • Clinical decision support adoption climbed from 28% to 37%
     
  • Patient engagement increased from 26% to 32%
     
  • Point of care/workflow enhancement expanded from 42% to 47%
     
  • Consumer access to clinical data adoption rates rose from 53% to 58%

The study also examines awareness and current usage of emerging technologies, including augmented intelligence, blockchain, and precision medicine. While awareness levels significantly exceed adoption rates, according to the study, more than one-third of physicians intend to adopt emerging technologies within the year. Interest is highest for use with chronic care patients.

“The rise of the digital-native physician will have a profound impact on healthcare and patient outcomes, and will place digital health technologies under pressure to perform according to higher expectations,” said AMA Board Chair Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, in a news release.

Other interesting findings from the study include:

  • Liability coverage remains the most important requirement for physician adoption of digital health tools, and this requirement has significantly increased in importance during the last three years. Electronic medical record (EHR) integration and data privacy round out the three most important physician requirements for digital health tools.
     
  • There is a small, but "meaningful," shift in key motivations for using digital tools. “Allows me to provide care remotely” and “Helps reduce stress/burn-out” have become more relevant reasons physicians use digital tools.
     
  • Physicians ages 51‒65 experienced a greater increase in the number of digital tools used than any other age category. Previously, older physicians reported using an average of 1.7 digital tools. In 2019, that number increased to 2.3, matching the usage of physicians in the 41‒50-year-old age group in 2019, but still less than 2.6 reported by doctors who are 28‒40 years old.
     
  • Between 2016 and 2019, physician enthusiasm for digital tools increased in only three categories: telehealth/virtual care, remote monitoring for improved care, and a bit for remote monitoring for efficiency, but enthusiasm for digital health solutions declined in all other categories over 2016.

To help accelerate adoption of remote patient monitoring, the AMA offers a free Digital Health Implementation Playbook.

“The rise of the digital-native physician will have a profound impact on healthcare and patient outcomes.”

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Physician telehealth/virtual care usage rises 100% in three years with 28% of physicians now using this approach to care.

Every category measured demonstrates increased usage of digital health modalities, with 58% of physicians now providing consumer access to clinical data, such as lab results.


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