When the first steps in developing digital health tools were taken, one of the big objections was heard almost immediately: “we cannot put tools in the hands of patients because they don’t know what they are doing”. Health issues need to be addressed in a doctor’s office or at the hospital – self-help is a no-go. And now that digital health is progressing and proving to save lives, this objection is still widely heard. Is it holding back adoption?
As the aging population and prevalence of chronic disease in America grows, internet-connected health devices and applications can help support primary and specialty healthcare. So why is that not happening faster? For traditional (not meant with any disrespect of course) healthcare workers the protection of patients is a number one priority, and it should be. But there needs to be a balance. We need to find a way to bridge the gap between traditional and digital healthcare to improve monitoring, diagnosis and treatment for these patients.
In a study towards the adoption and impact of digital health tools conducted by Healthmine earlier this year, interesting facts came to light. Not surprising: the most popular tools are fitness and exercise apps, representing half of all digital tools used. Telemedicine and disease management have the lowest adoption. This seems to indicate that people tend to use these tools primarily to better their lifestyle then for more serious health improvement. Why is that?
Current landscape: adoption of digital health is speeding up
Another conclusion from the study: 76% who use digital health tools say they improve health and 93% of consumers who used telemedicine say it lowers their healthcare costs. But 39% of digital health users still haven’t even heard of telemedicine. Imagine what non-digital patients know about these tools.
But nonetheless the adoption of digital tools is speeding up. We are getting more used to apps, software and electronic patients records. And more importantly, we are growing trust in these tools. With the use of technologies like machine learning from big data, high resolution cameras and improved security measures – we feel more comfortable in both usage and results. Thirty-three percent of U.S. consumers are using mobile health apps, compared with just 16% in 2014, according to a recent report by Accenture.
The same report shows that using digital health tools in primary care could save the US healthcare system $10 billion annually.
Traditional healthcare and its influence
While there is rapid growth in the use of digital health tools, such as activity trackers, smartwatches and health apps – nearly half of patients say their physician is not incorporating self-collected health data in guiding their healthcare, you can read from the Healthmine report.
This is what might be stopping the adoption of digital tools that fit the telemedicine, diagnosis and disease management categories. While these are the products that will really have an impact on both the patient’s health, and the costs of the healthcare systems all over the world.
Patients are stating that they are (really) willing to share their health data generated by apps with third parties to receive better care, customized treatment, and even custom insurance plans. Sharing with the doctor is perceived as a natural thing to do – but only a third of health app users have this set up. Mostly because their doctor is not open to it. Sharing data with healthcare providers is a more hesitant step to take, and this is being done at a very small scale at this moment.
Protecting and progressing simultaneously
If we take a final look at the Healthmine report, 46% of respondents say their doctor is not incorporating self-collected health data in guiding their healthcare. Those people are actively tracking their own health and also actively reaching out to their doctor. Imagine what happens to people that just rely on their doctor to tell them what to do – for these people it might take years to adopt any digital tools.
The key to both improving our health and bring down costs of the healthcare systems seems to be in bridging the gap between traditional and digital health – and ironically enough the digital tools need traditional health professionals to push them. For mass adoption, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers need to advice on digital tools that are trusted and have been proving their positive impact.