How Prepared Were Doctors for the COVID Digital Upswing?

May 1, 2020

A new survey of healthcare professionals explores the pandemic-sparked shift in the adoption and acceptance of connected health technologies.

Survey spotlights the pandemic-sparked shift in adoption and acceptance of connected health technologies

 

Before the global outbreak of coronavirus, Ipsos conducted a survey with SERMO (a fieldwork partner), looking at how 1,745 doctors from across 21 countries use digital technologies. Findings from the “Digital Doctor 2020” survey show that while a noteworthy proportion of doctors were already starting to adopt digital and connected health, many were hesitant. With the outbreak of COVID-19, this has all changed.

More recent Ipsos data-taken from 311 interviews with healthcare professionals (HCPs) in the US between March 26 and April 2, 2020-offer an updated perspective from the largest healthcare market in our global study. Although this latest data must be considered directional only due to the base size of the respondents surveyed, it was interesting to note that:

  • 80% of the US HCPs surveyed are now taking patient visits using telemedicine.

  • 62% are allowing to receive online or telephone details.

  • 57% consider the e-details to be effective (among 642 e-details the HCPs evaluated). Note: e-detail was defined as “any non-personal interaction with a pharmaceutical sales representative” such as a telephone call, videoconference (Skype/FaceTime), online video, etc.

Returning to the Digital Doctor 2020 report, although technology had started to be adopted across the globe by primary care physicians, its full potential was yet to be realized. The ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 has prompted a significant amount of inexperienced doctors to use online tools and resources, from telehealth (communicating via videoconferencing) and remote patient monitoring to virtual congresses. Whether these changes are likely to remain and become the “new normal” is difficult to predict, but certainly with doctors experiencing these changes we anticipate a longer lasting impact on the way healthcare is delivered and how technology is viewed and embraced by physicians.

Awareness and knowledge of technologies pre-covid-19

Before COVID-19, there was fairly high awareness of a mix of digital concepts relating to healthcare. However, this did not translate into knowledge. Specifically, in the Digital Doctor 2020 study:

  • The top four technologies that the doctors surveyed are most aware of include telemedicine/telehealth (97% awareness, 59% know a lot about it), remote patient monitoring (92% awareness, 41% know a lot about it), artificial intelligence (89% awareness, 31% know a lot about it) and robotics (85% awareness, 28% know a lot about it).

  • Technologies that the doctors surveyed are least aware of include chatbots (52% awareness, 16% know a lot about it) and blockchain (44% awareness, 10% know a lot about it).

It seems that although there was a good level of awareness of these technologies, how these tools apply to healthcare -or simply how they work-was still unknown to many doctors at the time of the survey. Now, at a time when so many technologies are being introduced (and advocated) to primary care doctors, it is important to note the level of awareness and knowledge of the various technologies available.

Simple explanations, along with clear benefit statements, will be welcomed when there is such a steep learning curve and a lack of awareness.

The rise of digital and connected health

The doctors surveyed in the study believe that connected health devices and tools can play a key role in disease and treatment management (83% agree), a figure which increased by seven percentage points since the last wave of this study (Digital Doctor 2017).

Physicians surveyed also agree that connected health devices and tools for patients will form part of treatment plans for certain health conditions in the future (83%). Agreement with this statement increased by six percentage points since the last study. However, “current usage” of connected health (pre-COVID-19) was not particularly high.

  • As shown in the new study, doctors’ use of connected health is reported at similar levels for personal (34%) and professional (31%) use. Among those physicians who use connected health devices professionally, the main reasons for doing so are to access information on a disease and how to manage it (57%), and to maintain up-to-date and accurate health records of patients (56%).

  • Some doctors surveyed also encourage patients to use these devices, either recommending them a connected health device to monitor their health for self-evaluation (47%) or to review the results over a consultation (46%).

Does connected health equal patient empowerment?

Physicians surveyed recognize a number of benefits that connected health devices offer, including patients having access to their data, creating opportunities for early intervention, and having more effective conversations between HCPs and patients.

  • Overall, 86% of doctors surveyed agree that connected health devices provide patients with greater access to their own personal health information. Those physicians surveyed who have also recommended a connected health device to their patients also agree that patients have become more interested in their own health data or have control over their weight, diet, and physical activities. However, the physicians also expressed concerns that this “empowerment” of patients can lead to patients misinterpreting data and potentially risk misdiagnosis.

Studies have shown that patient empowerment does lead to patient satisfaction. Providing patients with the option to receive more information about their condition and how they can better manage it does not necessarily mean that they will become, in essence, doctors of themselves. Rather, it provides the opportunity for patients to gather knowledge and participate in decisions about their treatment plan/management.

  • Digital Doctor 2020 shows physicians surveyed agree less with statements about the benefits of connected health in relation to the provision of better clinical outcomes, such as reduction of hospital readmissions (56%) or hospitalizations (55%).

The benefits and competitive advantage of connected health devices are that they can help healthcare move from a reactive to a proactive role. Providing patients with the ability to monitor their disease and understand what to do in order to prevent acute reactions means fewer people needing hospitalization or intensive care. Even if a patient is hospitalized, connected health devices will be able to help them manage their conditions after being discharged. 

The rise of virtual care/telehealth

Key study findings regarding telehealth include:

  • Around half of primary care doctors surveyed had previous experience with telehealth services.

  • A majority are aware of telehealth services, but there remains scope for education as to how these services can benefit doctors and how they can be maximized.

  • Around two in five doctors surveyed expect telehealth to play a key role in the future.

Telehealth has long been around but has never been widely adopted. Benefits of using telehealth were always centered around reducing health costs, increasing access to care, and making patients’ and doctors’ lives easier. Although this would indeed be the case in reality, only 48% of physicians previously claimed to have ever used telehealth. Our more recent survey amid COVID-19 (with 311 HCPs from seven specialties in the US) found that 80% of respondents now use telehealth, suggesting a drastic change in doctors’ behavior.

Barriers that countries were facing in terms of adoption of telehealth were regulatory in nature or due to limited technology infrastructure to support secure conversations between patients and doctors. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, things have changed, with new regulations in place in some markets. Specifically, FDA announced it will not object to any change in claims made by medical devices companies to facilitate the use of telehealth. Furthermore, the US federal government has made it easier for patients to get access to their doctors and other caregivers remotely, either via phone calls or video visits.

In these times of crisis, it is paramount to adapt to the new realities as quickly as possible to prevent overburden of the healthcare system. It is widely believed that telehealth is now here to stay, as more and more people gain experience with it and doctors begin to realize its benefits and potential. 

Rapid acceleration of digital channels

Reflecting on Ipsos’ more recent data gathered during COVID-19, the US HCPs surveyed are now allowing online or telephone details via reps (62%) and 38% have simply eliminated seeing reps at all.

The question remains, why were many doctors still reluctant to widely adopt and use connected health devices pre-COVID-19? We often talk about the benefits that these tools can provide to patients, but less about the benefits that they offer to physicians specifically. Due to unprecedented changes in recent years, such as the increasing number of patients with chronic diseases, growing life expectancy, doctor shortages, and now the global pandemic, huge challenges are facing doctors who have very busy schedules. Value-added solutions, coupled with proper training and supported by new regulations, will accelerate the acceptance and adoption of new digital health technologies.  

 

Reena Sangar os Global Head of Digital & Connected Health, Ipsos. Matilda Pateraki is Research Manager, Ipsos

 

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