Two in five physicians have used new digital communication technologies such as mHealth apps and telehealth technologies in reaching out to patients in the past year, according to Manhattan Research's Taking the Pulse U.S. 2014 study.
Attitudes of care providers towards new communication tools have not always kept up with the blistering pace of the digital revolution in healthcare. However, perceptions are changing slowly, as more and more healthcare professionals realize the benefit of new technologies to improve patient outcomes and meet outcomes-based incentives.
This is reflected in a recent survey by Manhattan Research that measured how providers in the United States are using the Internet, mobile devices, digital media and other technologies for patient interaction. The survey showed that two in five physicians believe new digital tools have a beneficial impact on clinical outcomes, and as many said that they have used these technologies to communicate with patients over the past year.
According to the Taking the Pulse U.S. 2014 Survey, close to half of all doctors said they used smartphones and tablets to show images and videos to patients to explain clinical conditions, and more than a third recommended mHealth apps. More than 20 percent said they monitored patients remotely using either mobile phones or home monitoring devices in the past year.
Text messaging, a comparatively older communication tool than apps, is now being used by 22 percent of physicians, a 40 percent jump from the year prior, Monique Levy, vice president of research at Manhattan Research, told Medscape. Levy said that doctors see texting as “an interim solution for efficiency” while they transition to using electronic health record portals to communicate with patients. But already, the report said up to a quarter of physicians have used these portals last year, and the upward trend would likely continue.
Telehealth -- particularly remote video consultations, are currently being used by a modest number of physicians -- just 10 percent, but this would be among the digital health communication tools to flourish going forward according to the study. Major insurers such as Wellpoint, Aetna and United Healthcare are already using videoconferencing for remote consulting and chronic disease management for members.
“As we move to an outcomes-based model of healthcare provision in the U.S., remote monitoring and telehealth are going to drive an extension of the point of care. We're seeing physician attitudes really align with policy,” James Avallone, Director of Physician Research, Manhattan Research, said in a press release.
According to the news release, “more than a third of physicians said that they had been evaluated or rewarded based on metrics measuring cost of treatment, patient outcomes or referrals over the past year.”
“There’s a perception out there that the shift in focus to population health isn’t yet on physicians’ radar. This data shows physicians are thinking about patient outcomes and indicates an opportunity for companies that can provide them digital tools to help them meet their targets.” Levy said.
Dr. Reid Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recently told Medscape that the use of digital health tools would eventually increase as the move from a fee-for-service to a pay-for-value payment system continues. He cites remote monitoring of blood pressure or glucose levels as an example of things that could limit unnecessary clinic visits and bring down costs.
The quantified self movement would likely contribute to the increased utilization of digital tools, as more people use wearables and sensors to change their lifestyles and make more empowered personal healthcare decisions. However, the use of other digital communication tools by doctors such as social media to engage patients remains a more contentious issue.