Adoption of digital health tools has grown significantly among all physicians since 2016 when the American Medical Association first benchmarked the integration of emerging health technology into clinical practice. New AMA research released in early February shows more physicians than ever recognize digital health tools as an advantage for driving improved efficiency and safety in health care.

“The rise of the digital-native physician will have a profound impact on health care and patient outcomes, and will place digital health technologies under pressure to perform according to higher expectations,” said AMA Board Chair Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH. “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 Digital Health Research investigates shifts in physician adoption of digital health tools during the last three years, along with current attitudes and expectations among physicians. The research examines seven categories of digital health tools that engage patients for clinical purposes, interpret and use clinical data, and manage outcomes and other measures of care quality. According to the AMA survey, adoption trends in those categories are helping to propel the digital transformation of health care.

Tele-visits / virtual visits - Physician adoption doubled from 14 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2019, the largest growth among the digital health tool categories. This category includes audio/video connections used to see patients remotely.

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.

While all digital health tools have seen increases in physician adoption since 2016, the biggest growth in adoption was among digital tools in the categories of tele-visits/virtual visits and remote monitoring for improved patient care. Driving this adoption is a significant increase in the importance physicians place in providing remote care to patients. To speed implementation of remote patient monitoring, the AMA’s Digital Health Implementation Playbook – available at www.ama-assn.org/amaone/ama-digital-health-implementation-playbook – packages the key steps, best practices and resources to help physicians extend care beyond the exam room.

Improved efficiency and increased patient safety remain the most important factors driving physician interest in digital health tools, 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 is dedicated to shaping a future where digital health tools are evidence-based, validated, interoperable and actionable. Through its ongoing work, the AMA is committed to ensuring physicians play a greater role in leading trustworthy and equitable tech-enabled innovation that enhances patient care, shapes a better health care system, and improves the health of the nation. Learn more about how the AMA is assisting physicians in using advanced technologies by visiting the AMA’s digital health website, www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/digital. 

Reprinted from a Feb. 6, 2020 AMA press release.


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