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AMA Survey: Docs Bullish on Efficient Digital Health Tools

September 26, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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While overall physician optimism towards digital health is present across all ages, health IT tools need to be beneficial to clinical practice and not a burden, according to an American Medical Association (AMA) survey on digital health.

The AMA digital health survey asked 1,300 physicians about their motivations and requirements for integrating digital health tools in their practices. Conducted by research agency Kantar TNS, the survey asked physicians to answer questions regarding telemedicine and telehealth, mobile health, wearable, remote monitoring, mobile applications and many others.

According to the survey’s results, the top three characteristics that attract physicians to digital health tools are that they improve work efficiency, increase patient safety and improve diagnostic ability. Indeed, all three relate directly to patient care. If a tool does not make the work day run more efficiently, that affects patient care—and physicians strive every day to make sure their processes and tools work for patients above all else.

A major part of the survey and a prime example of a tool that has the potential to transform clinical practice is the electronic health record (EHR). Physicians have adopted EHR technologies at a rapid rate and recognize the promise of EHRs, but that promise has not been met. A study by the AMA and the RAND Corporation found that EHRs are one of the top sources of physician dissatisfaction. Yet, it also found that among the 30 participating practices, 28 were using an EHR at the time of the study. But, with 85 percent of physicians surveyed saying that digital health solutions are advantageous to patient care, it is clear that the medical community sees the potential of these tools.

However, physicians need tools that fit within current systems and look to technology experts to meet those needs—tools that don’t take away time spent face-to-face with patients. When asked what requirements must be met by digital health tools of the future, three themes emerged:

  • Tools should be easy to use and as effective as current methods of patient care—if not more effective
  • Liability coverage, data privacy and work flow integration are essential
  • Physicians should be paid for time spent using the tools

If tools meet the requirements physicians have set forth, physicians anticipate rapid adoption and minimal disruption to their practice, the survey found. Nearly half of all physicians surveyed, regardless of age, stated high enthusiasm for new digital solutions. When asked how much of an advantage digital health solutions provide to a physician’s ability to care for patients, 87 percent of primary care physicians said there was definite or some advantage and 83 percent of specialists agreed.

The survey from AMA comes at an interesting time, only a few months after the organization’s CEO and executive vice president, James Madara, M.D., made headlines in the health IT community by referring to digital health products as the “snake oil of the early 21st century.” When asked specifically about EHRs, and if they are part of what he classifies as “snake oil,” Madara said they are not; but he noted that EHRs “are symbolic of a system that is not fully functional or living up to its potential.”

The AMA also recently funded a study which found that during office hours physicians spent nearly 50 percent of their time on EHR tasks and desk work. Researchers concluded that for every hour physicians provide direct clinical face time to patients, nearly two additional hours is spent on EHR and desk work within the clinic day, And, outside office hours, physicians spend another one to two hours of personal time each night doing additional computer and other clerical work.

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