More doctors used digital tools in 2019


The use of digital tools among physicians has markedly risen since 2016, with telehealth visits and remote patient monitoring making the greatest strides in usage, an American Medical Association report shows.

In 2019, 28% of physicians used televisits/virtual visits, up from 14% in 2016, while remote monitoring and management for improved care rose to 22% in 2019, an increase from 13% in 2016, according to the AMA report, released in February 2020. The report, which surveyed 1,359 doctors, includes responses from 672 primary care physicians and 687 specialists.

Remote monitoring for efficiency, meanwhile, grew to 16% in 2019 from 12% in 2016. Remote monitoring for efficiency pertains to smart versions of common clinical devices such as thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, and scales that automatically enter readings in the record. Remote monitoring for improved care refers to mobile applications and devices used for daily measurement of vital signs such as weight, blood pressure, blood glucose.

Adoption of other digital tools by physicians have also grown, including clinical decision support, which climbed to 37% in 2019 from 28% in 2016 and patient engagement tools, which rose to 33% in 2019, up from 26% in 2016. Clinical decision support tools pertain to modules used in conjunction with the electronic health record (EHR), or mobile applications integrated with an EHR that can signify changes in patient data, such as weight gain/loss, or change in blood chemistry. Patient engagement tools, meanwhile, refer to solutions that promote patient wellness and active patient participation in their care.

Tools that encompass use of point of care/workflow enhancement increased to 47% in 2019, from 42% in 2016. This area includes communication and sharing of electronic clinical data to consult with specialists, make referrals and/or transitions of care. Tools that address consumer access to their clinical data, meanwhile, rose to 58% in 2019 from 53% in 2016, the highest adoption rate among the digital health tool categories.

Overall, more physicians see an advantage to digital health solutions than did 3 years ago. More primary care physicians and specialists in 2019 reported a “definite advantage” to digital tools enhancing care of patients than in 2016. Doctors who see no advantage to such tools are trending downward and are concentrated to those age 50 and older, according to the report.

Solo-practice physicians are slowly increasing their use of digital health tools. In 2016, solo physicians reported using an average of 1.5 digital tools, which in 2019 increased to an average of 2.2 digital tools. Small practices with between one and three doctors used an average of 1.4 tools in 2016, which rose to an average of 2.2 tools in 2019, the report found. PCPs used slightly more digital tools, compared with specialists, in both 2016 and 2019.

Female doctors are slightly ahead of their male counterparts when it comes to digital health tools. In 2019, female physicians used an average of 2.6 digital tools, up from 1.9 in 2016. Male doctors used an average of 2.4 tools in 2019, compared with 1.9 tools in 2016.

For the physicians surveyed, the most important factor associated with usage was that digital tools were covered by malpractice insurance, followed by the importance of data privacy/security ensured by the EHR vendor, and that the tools were well integrated with the EHR. Other important factors included that data security was ensured by the practice or hospital, that doctors were reimbursed for their time spent using digital tools, and that the tools were supported by the EHR vendor.

Regarding the top motivator for doctors to use digital tools, 51% of physicians in 2019 said improved efficiency was “very important,” up from 48% in 2016. Other top motivators included that digital tools increased safety, improved diagnostic ability, and addressed physician burnout.

In 2019, the demonstration of safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed publications as it relates to digital tools also grew in importance. Of the physicians surveyed, 36% reported that safety and efficacy demonstrated in peer-reviewed publications was “very important,” an increase from 32% in 2016. Other “very important” factors for physicians are that digital tools used are proven to be as good/superior to traditional care, that they are intuitive/require no special training, that they align with the standard of care, and that their safety and efficacy is validated by the Food and Drug Administration.

“The rise of the digital-native physician will have a profound impact on health care and patient outcomes, and will place digital health technologies under pressure to perform according to higher expectations,” AMA board chair Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, PhD, said in a statement. “The AMA survey provides deep insight into the emerging requirements that physicians expect from digital technologies and sets an industry guidepost for understanding what a growing number of physicians require to adopt new technology.”

The survey was derived from the same physician panel used in 2016, provided by WebMD. For the 2019 survey, the basic 2016 survey was followed in wording and question order, with a few variations to remove some questions no longer relevant. The 2019 sample used careful quotas to ensure a sample composition similar to that of 2016, according to the report.

SOURCE: AMA Digital Health Research: Physicians’ motivations and requirements for adopting digital health – Adoption and attitudinal shifts from 2016 to 2019. American Medical Association. February 2020.

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