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How Doctors Feel About Digital Healthcare

Jonathan Ferng is an internal medicine physician who has a wide range of interests spanning healthcare, business, consulting, research, and music. He enjoys meditating, learning new skills, and sharing positivity with the world.
Published: September 19, 2022
Doctors are increasingly in favor of telehealth and digital healthcare solutions, survey data shows.
Tele-visits, remote monitoring devices, and other digital tools are becoming increasingly popular among physicians, according to recent surveys. (Image: Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels)

What are physician attitudes towards digital healthcare tools, and how have physician motivations and requirements for the adoption of tools changed over time? Results from the American Medical Association (AMA) Digital Health Study were recently published in September.

Researchers asked physicians what was required to convert their enthusiasm for new digital health tools into adoption in clinical practice, and four main categories emerged: Does it work? Will I receive payment? Will I be liable? Will it work in my practice?

The AMA surveyed at least 1,300 physicians in 2016, 2019, and 2022, with small modifications to the original 2016 survey questions and additional questions added at the end in 2022. About 50 percent of the physicians were primary care providers (PCPs) compared to 50 percent specialists, with the majority of physicians working in group practices.

Seven specific types of tools were evaluated, including remote monitoring for efficiency, remote monitoring and management for improved care, tele- or virtual visits, point of care or workflow enhancement, clinical decision support, consumer access to clinical data, and patient engagement. 

Widespread adoption

The researchers found over time, more physicians saw a “definite advantage to digital tools,” especially among those aged 51 and older. While 87 percent of PCPs and 83 percent of specialists felt there were advantages to leveraging digital tools for patient care in 2016, the percentages increased to 94 percent and 90 percent in 2022, respectively. 

Adoption of digital tools by physicians also increased significantly over time, from an average of 2.2 digital health tools used by physicians in 2016 to 2.4 in 2019 and 3.8 in 2022. Subgroup analyses revealed an increase in the number of tools used regardless of age, gender, years in practice, and level of enthusiasm for technology.

Percent of physicians using tele- and virtual visits spiked from 14 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2019 and 80 percent in 2022. Use of remote monitoring devices increased from 12 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2019 and 30 percent in 2022.

AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., MD, stated, “The physician adoption rate of digital health tools has accelerated as physicians grow increasingly optimistic about the advantages that properly designed digital health tools can have for patient care if key requirements are met.”

“The AMA survey illustrates the importance physicians place on validated digital health tools that improve health while streamlining the technological and administrative burdens faced each day in medicine. These technologies also must be designed and deployed in ways that advance health equity,” he continued.

Shifts in physician attitudes

The most enthusiasm from physicians was directed towards tele-visits at 57 percent, followed by remote monitoring devices at 53 percent and point of care or workflow enhancement tools at 49 percent.

Notably, enthusiasm decreased from 49 percent in 2016 to 43 percent in 2022 for patient engagement, and from 42 percent in 2016 to 37 percent in 2022 for consumer access to clinical data.

The top factors driving physician interest in digital health tools were improved clinical outcomes and work efficiency. Additionally, the importance of providing care to patients remotely and reducing stress and burn-out increased significantly from 2019 to 2022.

Among physicians who are enthusiastic about tele-health, 94 percent already use those services. In contrast, of those enthusiastic about remote monitoring devices, 39 percent already use them and 38 percent say they will adopt them within the next year.

While only 1 in 5 physicians currently use augmented intelligence, 2 in 5 say they will incorporate augmented intelligence in their practices within the next year.

Augmented intelligence refers to technologies intended to enhance, but not replace human intelligence. Examples of real-world applications of augmented intelligence include in care coordination command centers to process streams of data from various sources, applications for mental health tracking and spotting patterns, and population health management to develop personalized treatment plans and recommendations.

While the vast majority of physicians are excited about the future of digital healthcare, a large amount of concern still exists about how tools are implemented.

Physicians prefer services that are both intuitive and superior to traditional care tools. Liability coverage, integration into electronic health records, and data privacy protections all need to be in place to ensure swift adoption of new tools.