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Survey: Patients Want More Digital Health Tools from Primary Care Physicians

June 29, 2016
by Heather Landi
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Patient adoption of digital health tools remains low, but interest in virtual care services is high, as a new survey report finds that the majority of consumers say they are choosing their primary care provider, in part, based on how well they use technology to communicate with patients and manage their health.

A survey conducted by Harris Poll, on behalf of Salesforce, found that 59 percent of all health-insured patients, and 70 percent of millennials, say they would choose a primary care doctor who offers a patient mobile app (allowing patients to make appointments, see bills, view health data, etc.) over one that does not.

The survey polled 2,000 adults, among whom 1,736 have health insurance and a primary care doctor. The 2016 Connected Patient Report aimed to examine how consumers communicate with their healthcare provider and their interest in telemedicine and wearable devices.

The report found that people primarily interact with their physicians through in-person visits, phone calls and emails, but are open to virtual care treatment options enabled through technology.

When polled about how they communicate with their healthcare provider, 23 percent of respondents set up appointments in-person and 76 percent do so over the phone while only 9 percent use a portal, 7 percent use email and only 1 percent communicate via text. However, those last three forms of communication are higher for millennials—13 percent use portals, 11 percent communicate with their doctor via email and 4 percent communicate via text.

More consumers are using portals to get test results (23 percent) and to get prescriptions and refills (11 percent). Almost a third of respondents (29 percent) report using a portal to look at their current health data.

However, the majority of consumers (62 percent) are still relying on their doctor to keep track of their health records, and only 25 percent report having access to their health data through a single self-service portal provided by their healthcare provider and/or insurance provider. In addition, 15 percent said they use multiple portals or websites to keep track of their health data provided by their healthcare provider. Only 6 percent of respondents have their own electronic method, whether scanning, saving to desktop or an online file storage, to keep track of health data, and 29 percent keep their records in a home-based physical storage location like a folder or shoebox.

Sixty-three percent of insured adults say their primary care physician provides virtual care services enabled by technology, but these are mainly delivered through legacy technologies such as phone (53 percent) or email (28 percent). Only 10 percent reported their primary care physician enables communication through a health provider app on a mobile device and 7 percent of respondents’ doctors provide the option of texting with a doctor or nurse or instant messaging with a doctor or nurse. And, only 3 percent of respondents say their primary care physician provides the option of a webcam call with a doctor or nurse.

More than a third of respondents (37 percent) say that their primary care physician does not provide any virtual care services.

Despite this, mobile engagement is important among respondents, as, in addition to 59 percent who favor primary care physicians who offer a patient mobile app, 60 percent would choose a physician who offers home care over one that doesn't, and 46 percent would choose one who offers virtual treatment options over one who doesn't. Just 38 percent would choose a doctor "who uses data from patient’s wearable devices to manage health outcomes" over one that doesn't.

And, the survey findings indicate that 62 percent of U.S. adults with health insurance and a primary care provider would be open to virtual care treatments such as a video conference call as an alternative to an in-office doctor’s visit for non-urgent matters.

The survey findings also indicate that patients want their doctors to have access to their wearable health tracking device data to provide more personalized care. In fact, 78 percent of these patients who own a wearable would want their doctors to have access to data created by the device so providers can have more up-to-date views of their health (44 percent), use health data trends to be able to diagnose conditions before they become serious or terminal (39 percent), and give more personalized care (33 percent).

And, 67 percent of millennials would be very or somewhat likely to use a wearable health tracking device given to them by their insurance companies in exchange for potentially better health insurance rates based on the data provided by the device.

When polled about their post-discharge experiences, 61 percent of respondents say that improvements can be made in the post-discharge process, such as better communication between their primary doctors and other members of their care teams (38 percent).

“Patients today are choosing their providers, in part, based on how well they use technology to communicate with them and manage their health,” Joshua Newman, M.D., chief medical officer, Salesforce Healthcare and Life Sciences, said in a statement. “Care providers who build deeper patient relationships through care-from-anywhere options, the use of wearables and better communications post-discharge, will be in a strong position to be successful today and into the future.”

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