Survey Puts Digital Health in the Spotlight as Patients Increasingly Love Their Technology

MARCH 10, 2018
A recent survey of patients regarding the use of 'digital health' recently was released by Accenture. The findings are interesting, and troubling, depending on where you stand about healthcare being influenced by technology. Personally, I find the report on par for current dynamics in the changing healthcare space, but I know others are in for a shock. So why don't we cover some of the big areas?
Apps and Devices are Big
Since 2014, consumers are now 33% likely to use a wearable device compared to a previous 9%. Taking that into consideration, it is possible that smartwatches are becoming pretty common, and with the mass health aspects they carry (aside from just tracking exercise, but also heart rate) it's no wonder they are outpacing the Fitbit market from a few years back. Going in hand, almost half (48%) of consumers use a mobile app for their health compared to 16% in 2014. That's more than double in growth and expected to keep going. What's interesting from this data, is that use of websites for health information is down slightly from 58% to 56% and mobile has grown from 36% to 46% use. Essentially, people go to their phones and apps for data and resources, aside from Googling mostly. This will likely see a steady shift unless websites can move the user interface to a more mobile-friendly market, or face being outpaced by more keen companies.
Sharing is Ok
Compared to a few years (2016) ago, patients are much more likely to now share their health data with friends and family. This is most likely due to the apps increasing competitive, and friendly support for being active and related areas. I mean, look at the recent Abilify MYCITE smart tablet, it not only allows you to share if you took your medication with your healthcare team, but others that you trust, so this is a big thing that is recognized. Likewise, consumers are also more likely to share their data with their healthcare professionals, health insurance plans, and online communities. This all stems from most patients seeing this data as being critical to help monitor a loved one's health or increasing communication with their health team or increasing the engagement with their health through helpful nudges from friends, family, and healthcare professionals.
Patients want their health data
Increasingly, patients are downloading and accessing their health portals provided by doctors. Compared to 2016, where only 27% said they accessed their EHR, now 38% are plugging in. The primary interest these patients have is to see their lab work and test results (why wait for a letter), seeing their notes from their doctors, and their prescription medication history. 
Virtual Care is In
Almost 75% of consumers would use virtual care for after-hours appointments or attend a class on their health conditions. Then, more than 50% would use a virtual visit for follow-up after their doctor appointments, discuss a health concern, get follow-up services after hospitalization, participate in a family member's appointment, and have a virtual exam conducted for a non-urgent condition. This is intriguing as it demonstrates a population readily accepting of doing virtual visits for low-risk/non-urgent conditions, which could help reduce clinic stress for visits, and could be a preferred venue for certain health organizations. However, less than 50% of patients want virtual visits to replace their annual physical exam or replace an urgent concern or visit, and I think this makes sense and can't see that changing anytime soon. The impetus for this could stem that many of those surveyed thought virtual visits would reduce costs, and still provide quality care. 
AI sounds incredible, but does it help patients?
While artificial intelligence sounds far-fetched, odds are if you own an Alexa or Siri-enabled device you already are using it. Consumers like the ability to get access to information on the fly, and it has a certain hands off the appeal. As I've discussed in an earlier article, Alexa and similar home voice assistants are already targetting the home health setting. Patients seem interested in the further use of devices that are AI enabled to do home blood work, schedule health appointments and payments, serve as a virtual coach, analyze genetic data, and help with medication monitoring, based on this survey. They see it as a service always available and can save trips to the doctor. But some people still like the tried and true human touch, so AI and machines at home for healthcare are probably the furthest thing away at this time, and apps and wearables are the interim devices for now .
Pharmacy is no stranger to this technology. You could argue that many companies have migrated to apps and similar tech for their consumers and patients to help get their medications and make purchases, and engage them in their health. But the future market seems inclined to leverage this technology even further. I feel that a few good entrepreneurs can make this tech find a home in pharmacy, but whether that's a service that includes virtual MTM visits or just medication monitoring or other services leaves to be seen.

Accenture Consulting. Meet today's healthcare team: Patients + Doctors + Machines: Accenture 2018 Consumer Survey on Digital Health. . Accessed March 9, 2018.

Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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