Rising demand for digital interaction between consumers and doctors is paving the way for nontraditional players to upend the healthcare industry, according to a new survey.
More than half of the nearly 2,500 consumers surveyed are comfortable contacting their physician digitally and already use available technology, according to a new survey from the consultancy Ernst & Young. The main motivators are that virtual data-sharing will reduce wait times and lower costs.
Both consumers and physicians are hungry for more connected experiences that reframe how and where care is delivered, Jacques Mulder, U.S. health leader for Ernst & Young, said in a statement.
"This … is another indicator that health is entering an era of convergence," he said.
Thirty-six percent of consumers are interested in at-home diagnostic testing, 33% are open to using a smartphone to share data and 21% would do video consultations.
There's widespread agreement among physicians that digital technology will improve care. Two-thirds of the about 350 physicians surveyed said that it would reduce the burden on the healthcare system and its associated costs, and 64% think it would help reduce doctor and nurse burnout.
The survey marks gradual improvement in the industry's embrace of digital technology. Notably, only a quarter of consumers are interested in granting physicians access to their lifestyle habits, unless it comes with added incentives.
But despite hesitation in sharing dietary and exercise information, 26% indicated that the ability to receive tailored diet and exercise plans would boost engagement, which is much lower among the 45-and-older demographic.
Virtual direct-to-consumer healthcare delivery has been touted as a means to increase access— particularly for those in rural communities—as well as improve outcomes and lower costs. Yet, whether there are actual cost savings has been debated. While telehealth is cheaper than traditional doctor or hospital visits, more people may seek care because it is easier to use, driving up healthcare costs, related research shows. Integrating these tools can also be costly.
Industry experts point to partnerships like the Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway venture that could leverage their technological prowess to improve efficiency and lower costs.
But reimbursement issues remain. While lawmakers have made incremental progress, there has been a piecemeal approach to federal reimbursement models, which has slowed adoption.
"Medicare lags behind other payers in reimbursement for telehealth," said Joanna Hiatt Kim, vice president for payment policy at the American Hospital Association.
While the spot solutions designed to address a certain aspect of health or wellness are a good start, the industry needs a broader perspective on telehealth, said Rachel Hall, principal and health digital offering leader for Ernst & Young.
"What we are missing are solutions to support health and disease management on a broader level," she said in a statement. "To find success in this landscape, we need more interoperable data that is source-agnostic, the right analytic tools and a focus on consumer-centric designs."