Nielsen: Access to digital health lags behind patient interest

By Jonah Comstock
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Nielsen BPCA new survey of 5,000 patients and 626 physicians conducted by Nielsen Strategic Health Perspectives found that consumer access to digital health technology is still quite low, especially compared to consumers' wants.

For instance, the survey found that 36 percent of adults were interested in a 24-7 telephone line for medical advice, but only 14 percent had access to one. Similarly, 28 percent were interested in text message appointment reminders, but just 9 percent had access; and 26 percent were interested in getting care based on emailed photos of their condition, but only 3 percent had access to such a service. Nineteen percent were interested in video visits, but only 2 percent had access to them. Even telephone appointment reminders were only available to 49 percent of the survey group.

"These findings emphasize how few patients and providers are actually using the technologies that we use in most other aspects of our daily lives,” Janet Marchibroda, director of health innovation at the Bipartisan Policy Center, which sponsored the survey, said in a statement. “A lack of appropriate incentives as well as regulatory and legislative barriers have prevented many healthcare providers’ from implementing these technologies. Yet as healthcare organizations are increasingly responsible for improving the health of large populations, they must rely more on efficient, technology-driven patient-physician relationships to achieve performance goals. That means society must create incentives that facilitate adoption of these tools and technologies.”

The survey did find access to some technologies had increased since last year. Access to patient portals was up from last year and now stands at 28 percent; access to online appointment scheduling was up too and now stands at 21 percent; and access to email appointment reminders was up and is now at 20 percent.

By and large, providers weren't recommending mobile and digital tools either, the survey found. Only 3 to 5 percent of doctors recommended using a mobile app to track physical activity levels, using a mobile app to monitor biometrics, using a health monitor that transmits information to the doctor, or using a wearable activity tracker. Eleven percent used email appointment reminders and 8 percent used text reminders.

Nineteen percent had diagnosed a patient over the phone, which was actually down from 25 percent in 2013. Just 9 percent had used remote monitoring of vital signs or interacted with patients using audio or video equipment.

Outside of their own personal experience, physicians had mixed attitudes about telemedicine. While 42 percent saw it as "an important evolution in the practice of medicine" and 39 percent considered it good for patients, 31 percent thought it was "not worth the hype" and 20 percent expressed concerns about its effect on their personal income or practice revenue.

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