Do patients want more digital health services?

There's a rapid growth in the use of digital technology, especially wearable devices and mobile, tablet apps - but do patients love it or hate it?
12 March 2018

US patients are demanding more digital health services says Accenture | Source: Pexels

A​ growing consumer demand for digital health services is ushering in a new model for healthcare.

In the new model, patients and machines are joining doctors as part of the healthcare delivery team, according to results of a survey from Accenture.

The survey of 2,301 U.S. consumers indicates the growing acceptance of machines — ranging from artificial intelligence (AI), to virtual clinicians and home-based diagnostics — playing a greater role in their overall medical care.

About one in five respondents said they have already used AI-powered healthcare services.

Among the remaining, a majority said that they are likely to use AI-enabled clinical services in the future. Of these, 66 percent said they’d be comfortable using home-based diagnostics, 61 percent said they’d like to experience virtual health assistants and 55 percent said they’d consider using virtual nurses that monitor health conditions, medications and vital signs at home.

Kaveh Safavi, Senior Managing Director, Head of Global Health Practice, Accenture said:

Driven by experiences outside of healthcare, consumers increasingly expect to use digital technologies to control when, where and how they receive care services. By harnessing digital technologies in this way, healthcare will increasingly tap digital technologies to empower human judgment, free up clinician time and personalize care services to put control in the patients’ hands.

The survey results also show that consumers are increasingly using a variety of digital self-service tools for managing their health. For instance, consumer use of mobile and tablet health apps has tripled over the past four years, from 16 percent in 2014 to 48 percent today.

In one such example, patient portals, more than four in 10 respondents (44 percent) said they have accessed their electronic health records (EHRs) over the past year.

According to the survey, patient portals have helped get information on lab and blood-test results (67 percent), view physician notes regarding medical visits (55 percent), and view their prescription history (41 percent).

The rise of wearable devices

The use of wearable devices by consumers has nearly quadrupled in the past four years, from just 9 percent in 2014 to 33 percent today.

Roughly three-fourths of health consumers view wearables — such as those that monitor glucose, heart rate, physical activity and sleep — as beneficial to understanding their health condition (75 percent), engaging with their health (73 percent), and monitoring the health of a loved one (73 percent).

“The more accustomed healthcare consumers become to using wearables and other smart technologies, the more open they are to sharing the personal health data these tools collect,” said Safavi.

For instance, 90 percent of survey participants said they are willing to share personal data with their doctor, and 88 percent said they are willing to share personal data with a nurse or other healthcare professional.

Further, the percentage of consumers willing to share personal data from wearable devices with their insurers has increased over the past year, from 63 percent in 2016 to 72 percent today.

Consumers are more willing to share such data and with online communities and other app users – 47 percent today, compared with 38 percent in 2016.

However, there are fewer who are willing to share data with their employer (38 percent) or a government agency (41 percent).

Virtual healthcare makes a real impact

There was a small rise in the number of patients who had received virtual care services in the past year, from 21 percent in 2016 to 25 percent in 2017.

Further, one in six of those consumers said they are taking part in remote health consultations, compared with 12 percent in 2016, and 14 percent are participating in remote monitoring, up from 9 percent in 2016.

Three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents said they were satisfied with the virtual care they have received, with nearly half (47 percent) of those respondents saying that, given a choice, they would prefer a more immediate virtual medical appointment over a delayed in-person appointment.

Also, more than half of survey respondents said they believe that virtual care reduces medical costs to patients, and 43 percent said they like the timely care that virtual technology provides.

The majority of healthcare consumers said they would use virtual care for a variety of activities, from e-medical visits to medical diagnosis and group therapy.

Among those activities, nearly three-quarters chose virtual care for after-hours appointments, 71 percent chose it to deliver a class on a specific medical condition, and two-thirds said they’d consider it for a follow-up appointment after seeing a health professional in person.

Most respondents said they would also use virtual care for a range of additional services such as discussing specific health concerns with medical professionals, in-home follow-up after a hospital stay, participating in a family member’s medical appointment, and being examined for a non-emergency condition.