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AMA: Physicians Are ‘Enthusiastic’ About mHealth

A new survey finds that physicians see potential in digital health tools and platforms, but the technology will have to address certain issues before doctors truly embrace it.

- Physicians are “enthusiastic” for the adoption of digital health tools and platforms, according to a new study by the American Medical Association. But for most technologies, that enthusiasm hasn’t yet translated into actual use.

Some 85 percent of the 1,300 physicians surveyed in July say “digital health solutions are advantageous to patient care,” the survey reported. And they’re optimistic that mHealth and telehealth tools can improve practice efficiencies, the safety of their patients and their ability to diagnose the patients and treat them, as well as boosting patient engagement and reducing burnout.

But the AMA also noted that most technologies are still below the adoption rate that typically ensures their success, so the future isn’t set in stone.

To ensure continued adoption, the survey said, such technologies will have to address coverage for liability, data privacy, integration with the electronic medical or health record, and billing and reimbursement concerns.

According to the survey, 81 percent said digital health technology must be covered by standard malpractice insurance, while 82 percent say data privacy and security have to be assured by EHR vendors and 81 percent say those assurances have to come from the physician practice or hospital. Another 81 percent say the technology has to integrate with the EHR platform, 75 percent say they want to be reimbursed for time spent using it and 77 percent say it has to be proven as good as a superior to traditional care. Finally, 74 percent say the technology should not require any special training.

Physicians placed low value on technology that gives them something different, such as giving them more patients or a new revenue stream. And they’re not all that concerned that their patients are urging them to use the technology or that it’s being used by other in the field.

The survey found that PCPs and large and complex practices are using the most digital health technology, with age less of a factor than size and setting.

“The AMA is dedicated to shaping a future when digital health tools are evidence based, validated, interoperable, and actionable,” the AMA’s Immediate Past President, Steven J. Stack, MD, said in a comments accompanying today’s release of the survey. “To make this prospect a reality in the near-term, the AMA is ensuring that physicians play a greater role in leading digital health innovations that expand the bounds of science, enhance patient care, shape a better healthcare system and improve the health of the nation.”

The survey addressed seven specific digital health categories:

  • Clinical decision support tools, such as EHR apps, are in what the AMA considers to be early stages of adoption, with 43 percent already using them and 38 percent expecting to adopt them within three years.

Such tools are “attractive because (they) would increase patient safety and improve physicians’ current ways of working,” the study stated, but “the tools(s) would have to work well with current data systems and be easy to use.”

  • Digital patient engagement tools also scored in the early adoption stages, with 39 percent reported they use the technology, another 18 percent saying they’ll use it within six months, 23 percent next year and 19 percent in two to three years.

“Physicians would be motivated to use (these tools) in order to increase patient safety and adherence as well as to improve current ways of working,” the AMA reported. “The tool(s) would have to work well with current data and liability systems and be easy to use.”

  • Virtual visits “have not yet crossed the chasm of adoption,” the survey reports, with 29 percent reporting they already use the technology, 19 percent saying they’ll use it within the next six months, another 19 percent within the year and a whopping 30 percent within the next two to three years.

Virtual visits “could improve work efficiency and patient convenience and safety,” the AMA reports, “but would have to be covered by standard liability systems and also allow for easy reimbursement” to pass the threshold to widespread adoption.

  • Remote monitoring for efficiency – specifically, digital devices that gather medical-grade data from patients – are also below the threshold, with 21 percent already using the devices, 21 percent adopting them within six months, 24 percent within the year and a31 percent in two to three years.

Such devices “would need to be proven to improve efficiency and diagnostic ability while being well integrated into current data system,” the survey said.

  • Remote monitoring and management for improved care, primarily defined as RPM for patients with chronic conditions, also placed below the threshold. Some 24 percent of physicians surveyed are using the platform now, while 20 percent will use it within six months, 24 percent by next year and 31 percent in two to three years.

“Improved safety and adherence would motivate use,” the survey stated, “as long as it was easy to adopt and well integrated with current systems.”

  • Digital tools that allow consumer access to clinical data have moved into what is called “the later stages of adoption” – 72 percent say they’re using the technology now, with 8 percent joining the curve within six months, 10 percent in the next year and 8 percent in two to three years. This, the AMA reports, may be a sign that enthusiasm for the technology is waning.

“Increases in patient safety and convenience, along with a more efficient workflow, attract physicians to this tool,” the study reported. “Assurances of data security and liability coverage are necessary in order to encourage continued use.”

  • Point-of-care and workflow enhancement tools, such as communication platforms for care management and transition, are already in the later stages of adoption, the survey said, with 60 percent saying they use the technology, 12 percent saying they’ll use it with six months, 15 percent in the next year and 12 percent in two to three years.

“Attractive because it could increase patient safety and improve physicians’ current ways of working, the tool must work well with current data and liability systems in order to encourage continued use,” the survey said.

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