What Do Patients Want out of Digital Healthcare?

What Do Patients Want out of Digital Healthcare?

A recent survey conducted by Accenture Consulting examines the growing digital healthcare sector. It takes a closer look at the ways in which patients and physicians are increasingly using technology to create a more engaging, convenient healthcare experience.

Carried out on behalf of the company by Nielsen, The Accenture 2016 Consumer Survey on Patient Engagement is the third Accenture study to investigate healthcare trends across seven countries. It involved 7,840 consumers over the age of 18 in Australia, Brazil, England, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the United States. The survey assessed their attitudes toward their own health and adoption of health management technologies, as well as their healthcare providers’ digital capabilities.

The survey provided insightful comparisons of patients’ healthcare preferences across geographic, age, usage, and sector-related boundaries. Additionally, the Accenture Patient Engagement Survey offered an overview of emerging healthcare trends and the offerings that consumers hope to see going forward.

The following are three survey categories that demonstrate trends in healthcare technology adoption within the American healthcare sector. These categories also demonstrate the current strengths and weaknesses of various digital health management resources.

Access to Electronic Health Records

doctor and patient
Image by Edtech Stanford University School of Medicine | Flickr

A growing number of American consumers are taking a more active approach to their health management by accessing their own electronic health records (EHR). While just 27 percent of Americans used their EHRs to obtain information such as lab results, immunization records, and prescription histories in 2014, this number grew to 47 percent by 2016.

This increased usage has accompanied an increase in understanding. Patients are now more familiar with the nature and contents of HER systems. In 2014, 61 percent of survey respondents weren’t aware of the information available to them in their EHRs. However, 2016 saw this number fall to 35 percent.

Patients between the ages of 65 and 74 are the most likely to access their electronic health records, and the growing digital availability of EHRs is benefiting consumers in a number of ways. For example, 41 percent of survey respondents simply check their health records to stay informed.

However, others reported checking their EHRs for accuracy and using them to help guide medical decisions. Participants generally agreed that lab work and blood test results, as well as physician notes, were the most useful pieces of information available to them via EHR.

The public is increasingly relying on EHRs for supplementary healthcare information. However, consumers and physicians disagree regarding the scope of information that should be available to patients.

While 92 percent of patients believe that they should have full access to all of the information in their electronic health records, only 18 percent of doctors share this view. Far more physicians – 74 percent – are in favor of providing patients with limited EHR access. This is compared to only 7 percent of consumers who would be satisfied with such an arrangement.

Moreover, this rift is gradually growing. Compared to survey results from 2012, a smaller percentage of physicians are in favor of granting consumers full EHR access. However, the percentage of patients in favor of full access has risen by 10 percent since 2014.

Still, both physicians and consumers agree that electronic health record access can help patients become more engaged with their own healthcare, assisting doctors in providing more personalized care. Physician and consumer respondents jointly reported that patients should use their EHRs to share important medical history, demographic, and symptom information with their doctors.

Mobile Healthcare Tools

Adoption of mobile health-related technologies is on the rise around the world, particularly among consumers aged 18 to 44. In just two years, the percentage of tech-savvy consumers who use mobile or web-based apps to manage their health has doubled, rising from 16 percent in 2014 to 33 percent in 2016.

Among the most common health-related applications are fitness trackers, with diet and nutrition applications following closely behind. While still commonly used, symptom checkers and patient portals are slightly less popular app categories.

The number of consumers using wearable health-tracking devices has also increased. While just 9 percent of survey participants took advantage of this innovative technology in 2014, this number grew to 21 percent in 2016.

Still, websites remain the most common tools for digital health management. Of all survey respondents who reported being technologically engaged with their personal health, 57 percent relied on health tracking websites, while 22 percent and 21 percent used smartphones and wearable tech, respectively.

Patients and physicians are increasingly viewing healthcare applications and wearable technologies as valuable health management tools. For example, 77 percent of consumers and 85 percent of physicians agree that wearable health trackers improve patient engagement. Over half of both groups believe that they improve physician-patient communications, patient understanding, and patient satisfaction.

In Accenture’s survey, just over three quarters of patients reported that they had followed their doctors’ advice to begin using wearable health trackers. Additionally, 78 percent stated that they would be willing to use said technology in the future.

Remote Doctors’ Offices

The majority of consumers still prefer visiting their doctors in person. However, the number of patients who favor remote healthcare services is gradually increasing, rising from 23 percent in 2014 to 29 percent in 2016.

Doctors and consumers agree that in-person visits provide higher quality care, allow for problems to be diagnosed more quickly, and facilitate patient engagement. However, they also agree that virtual visits are more convenient and accommodating for physicians and patients alike, as well as less expensive.

Going forward, improvements to the personalization and overall quality of remote healthcare could lead more consumers to value it as a preferable alternative to traditional office visits.

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