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Use of Digital Health Tools Stagnates, but Telehealth Satisfaction Grows

Laura Joszt
Use of digital health tools appears to have leveled off in 2019, according to one study, but another finds that use of telehealth is poised to grow considerably.
Use of digital health tools appears to have leveled off in 2019, but there remains variation in adoption of digital health among various subgroups, according to a new white paper from Rock Health and Stanford Medicine Center for Digital Health.

The survey included 4000 US adults and the response rate was 22%. It included questions about the respondents’ health as well as their adoption of digital health tools, sentiment about digital health technology, and demographics.

Digital health tracking was the only tool that showed an increase in the percentage of respondents who used it from 2018 to 2019 (38% vs 42%), while online provider reviews and wearable ownership stayed the same (64% and 33%, respectively) and live video telemedicine and online health information both decreased in use (34% vs 32% and 80% vs 76%, respectively).

The white paper explores 3 digital health trends.

Patient-generated health data create opportunities and potential challenges

Four out of 5 respondents tracked at least 1 health indicator each year from 2017 to 2019, but during that time the proportion of respondents who used a digital method instead of an analog method (eg, paper and pencil) increased 33%.

More than half (56%) of respondents said they share their health tracking data with physicians, which was up from 46% in 2017.

People with obesity were most likely to do some kind of tracking, with 68% tracking their weight. Among people with diabetes, 29% reported tracking their blood sugar digitally and 36% tracking it with analog methods.

“Digital tracking is most prevalent in use cases where analog tracking is already well-established,” according to the report. “Weight and blood sugar, for example, are the two most tracked measures among respondents with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”

Online health information is reshaping the patient–physician relationship

There are 3 important ways that digital technology is empowering patients to participate in their own care decisions:
  • 65% of respondents in 2018 and 2019 said they made suggestions about their care plan based on online information compared with just 20% in 2015.
  • 66% of respondents who searched online for providers selected their provider based on online reviews.
  • 18% of respondents said they participated in an online patient community at some point.
How willing US consumers are to share their health data depends on who they are sharing it with

Americans are more willing to share data with their doctors than other stakeholders, such as insurers, pharmacies, research institutions, technology companies, pharmaceutical companies, and the government.

However, even if patients are more willing to share their information with their doctors, that willingness has declined from 86% in 2017 to 73% in 2019. Older patients are also more likely to be willing to share data with their physician than younger patients. Younger patients are more likely to be willing to share data with tech companies.

“Managing the tensions that arise when patients and providers adopt new technology—and creating dialogue inclusive of patients—will continue to be a critical responsibility of all stakeholders in digital health,” the white paper concludes.

Meanwhile, J.D. Power released findings that telehealth services are poised to grow with more consumers using the service and recommending it. Overall, 65% of telehealth users said they used the service because it was recommended from someone else, like a friend, family member, colleague, physicians, employer, or health plan.

“Telehealth offers an alternative avenue to receive quality care that is cost efficient and accessible,” Greg Truex, managing director, Health Intelligence at J.D. Power, said in a statement. “Once providers and payers refine the formula for awareness and adoption, telehealth will change the landscape of how affordable and quality care is delivered.”

On a 1000-point scale, telehealth satisfaction had a score of 851, which is among the highest score for all healthcare, insurance, and financial service industry studies that J.D. Power has conducted.

However, awareness seems to be the biggest hurdle, with 29% of those who had not used telehealth saying it isn’t available to them and another 37% reporting that they do not know if it is offered. Only 25% of respondents in rural areas, which could benefit greatly from use of telehealth to help improve access to care, reported using telehealth.

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