Rising Telehealth Adoption Among Trends Highlighted in AMA Survey

Feb. 6, 2020
Improved efficiency, patient safety are the most important factors driving physician interest in digital health tools

Physician adoption of telehealth and virtual visits doubled from 14 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2019, according to survey research from the American Medical Association.

The growth in the use of telehealth is the largest among the digital health tool categories that the AMA has been tracking among physicians since 2016 when it first benchmarked the integration of emerging health technology into clinical practice. The AMA says its research indicates more physicians than ever recognize digital health tools as an advantage for driving improved efficiency and safety in healthcare.

“The rise of the digital-native physician will have a profound impact on healthcare and patient outcomes, and will place digital health technologies under pressure to perform according to higher expectations,” said AMA Board Chair Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, M.D., M.P.H., 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 AMA tracks six other categories of digital health tools:

• Remote monitoring and management for improved care – Physician adoption jumped from 13 percent in 2016 to 22 percent in 2019. This category includes mobile applications and devices for use by chronic disease patients for daily measurement of vital signs, such as weight, blood pressure, blood glucose, etc. Readings are visible to patients and transmitted to the physician's office. Alerts are generated as appropriate for missing or out of range readings.

• Remote monitoring for efficiency – Physician adoption modestly grew from 12 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2019. This category includes smart versions of common clinical devices such as thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, and scales that automatically enter readings in the patient medical record.

• Clinical decision support – Physician adoption climbed from 28 percent in 2016 to 37 percent in 2019. This category includes modules used in conjunction with the EHR, or mobile applications integrated with an EHR, that highlight potentially significant changes in patient data, such as weight gain/loss, change in blood chemistry, etc.

• Patient engagement – Physician adoption rose from 26 percent in 2016 to 32 percent in 2019. This category includes solutions to promote patient wellness and active participation in their care for chronic diseases, such as adherence to treatment regimens.

• Point of care/workflow enhancement - Physician adoption modestly increased from 42 percent in 2016 to 47 percent in 2019. This category includes communication and sharing of electronic clinical data to consult with specialists, make referrals and/or transitions of care.

• Consumer access to clinical data – Physician adoption rose from 53 percent in 2016 to 58 percent in 2019, the highest adoption rate among the digital health tool categories. This category includes secure access allowing patients to view clinical information such as routine lab results, receive appointment reminders and treatment prompts, and to ask for prescription refills, appointments and to speak with their physician.

Improved efficiency and increased patient safety remain the most important factors driving physician interest in digital health tools, the AMA said, although addressing patient adherence, convenience and physician burnout have increased in importance as factors driving physician interest.

Liability coverage remains the most important requirement for physician adoption of digital health tools, and this requirement has significantly increased in importance during the last three years. Electronic medical record (EHR) integration and data privacy rounded out the three most important physician requirements for digital health tools. There was a notable increase in the importance of peer review validation as a physician requirement for digital health tools.

For the first time, the AMA research surveyed physicians about their awareness and current usage of emerging technologies, such as augmented intelligence, blockchain and precision medicine. While levels of awareness greatly exceed adoption rates, more than one-third of physicians intended to adopt emerging technologies within the year. Interest is highest for use with chronic care patients, the AMA said.     

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