While the digital health industry is growing at a rapid-fire pace, adoption of tools like telemedicine and wearable devices, among physician practices has moved more slowly. But poor adoption among physicians may be set to change: A study released Monday by the American Medical Association found that nearly half of physicians are enthusiastic about digital health tools, and the majority see the tools as a boon to patient care.
Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they see potential for digital health tools to improve patient care, according to the survey of 1,300 physicians.
And many physicians plan to put these digital tools to work. While just 42% of physicians have adopted digital tools that help them communicate and share electronic clinical data for consults and referrals, 21% said they plan to start using such tools in the future.
Patient engagement tools are used by 26% now, but 30% plan to adopt within the year or later, the survey showed. While 28% of physicians use clinical-decision support in their practice, 26% plan to start using it. And 35% of physicians surveyed said they plan to start using remote monitoring tools for efficiency and improved patient care, though less than 15% use such tools now.
Interestingly, doctors are least enthusiastic about telemedicine, with just 25% looking to use telemedicine tools in the future and 14% using the tools now.
According to the survey, the majority of physicians surveyed said they look to digital health tools to improve efficiency and diagnostic ability and increase patient safety. They also are attracted to digital tools that help reduce stress and burnout, improve their relationships with patients, and increase patient adherence, the survey showed.
But there are barriers to widespread physician adoption of digital health tools. The majority of physicians surveyed are concerned about data privacy: 82% said it is essential that data security is assured by the electronic health record provider, and 81% said data privacy must be assured by their practice or hospital. Additionally, 81% said it is necessary that digital health tools are covered by standard malpractice insurance, and 81% said the tools must integrate well with EHRs. Physicians also want tools to be easy to use and as effective as current practices, the survey showed.
The AMA study was conducted by Kantar TNS, a custom research company, which surveyed U.S. physicians from July 7-18. The AMA noted that the physicians were compensated for completing the online survey.
The digital health industry has grown rapidly over the past few years, as investors continue to flood the sector with money. According to venture fund Rock Health, venture funding in the digital health sector has reached more than $2 billion for the first half of 2016, on track to surpass funding last year. In 2015, venture funding in digital health reached $4.5 billion. To compare, funding in 2011 totaled $1.1 billion, according to the firm.
But the healthcare industry has remained skeptical of digital tools. In June, AMA CEO Dr. James Madara likened the explosion of ineffective EHRs, digital health tools and applications to “digital snake oil,” pointing out that many of the tools don't work or even harm care.
Even so, the AMA has forged several partnerships in the digital health space. In July, for example, the association partnered with Intermountain Healthcare and health information technology firm Omada Health to use digital health services to prevent Type 2 diabetes.
The AMA is also a founding partner to Health2047, a San Francisco-based health innovation startup.