Technology is changing the way doctors practice from televisits to remote monitoring, AMA survey finds

Telehealth consultation
The number of physicians using telehealth visits doubled from 14% in 2016 to 28% in 2019, according to a new survey. (Getty/AndreyPopov)

Significantly more physicians are using emerging health technology in their clinical practice than they were just three years ago, according to a new American Medical Association (AMA) survey.

The largest growth among digital health tools was the use of televisits/virtual visits, the survey found. Physician adoption doubled from 14% in 2016 to 28% in 2019, with doctors using audio/video connections to see patients remotely.

Physicians are also increasingly using digital tools to remotely monitor patients, the survey found.

Driving the adoption of these two tools is a significant increase in the importance physicians place in providing remote care to patients beyond their office.

The adoption of digital tools has grown among all physicians since 2016 when the AMA first benchmarked the integration of emerging health technology into clinical practice, the group said. Physicians are using technology to engage patients, interpret and use clinical data and manage outcomes and other measures of care quality, the survey found.

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“The rise of the digital-native physician will have a profound impact on healthcare and patient outcomes, and will place digital health technologies under pressure to perform according to higher expectations,” Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, M.D., the AMA’s board chair, said in an announcement about the survey.

“The AMA survey provides deep insight into the emerging requirements that physicians expect from digital technologies and sets an industry guidepost for understanding what a growing number of physicians require to adopt new technology,” he said.

The survey, which looked at the adoption of digital health tools, also asked physicians about current attitudes and expectations.

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Along with measuring the use of telehealth, the survey focused on the following six other digital health tools:

Remote monitoring and management. Physician adoption increased from 13% in 2016 to 22% in 2019. This category includes mobile applications and devices for use by chronic disease patients for daily measurement of vital signs, such as weight, blood pressure, and blood glucose. Readings are visible to patients and transmitted to the physician's office. Alerts are generated as appropriate for missing or out of range readings.

To help physicians use remote patient monitoring, the AMA has put together a Digital Health Implementation Playbook.

Remote monitoring for efficiency. Physician adoption modestly grew from 12% in 2016 to 16% in 2019. This category includes smart versions of common clinical devices such as thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, and scales that automatically enter readings in the patient medical record.

Clinical decision support. Physician adoption grew from 28% in 2016 to 37% in 2019. This category includes modules used in conjunction with the electronic health record (EHR), or mobile applications integrated with an EHR, that highlight potentially significant changes in patient data, such as weight gain or weight loss or a change in blood chemistry.

Patient engagement. Physician adoption rose from 26% in 2016 to 32% in 2019, as physicians used solutions to promote patient wellness and active participation in their care for chronic diseases, such as adherence to treatment regimens.

Point of care/workflow enhancement. Physicians' use of these technology tools rose from 42% in 2016 to 47% in 2019. This category includes communication and sharing of electronic clinical data to consult with specialists, make referrals and/or transitions of care.

Consumer access to clinical data. Physician adoption now stands at 58%, up from 53% in 2016, and has the highest adoption rate among the digital health tool categories. This category includes secure access allowing patients to view clinical information such as routine lab results, receive appointment reminders and treatment prompts, and patient requests for prescription refills, appointments and to speak with their physician.

What’s driving physician interest in digital tools?

The survey found physicians are looking for improved efficiency and increased patient safety. Physicians also said addressing patient adherence, convenience and physician burnout have increased in importance as factors driving their interest.

Liability coverage remains the most important requirement for physician adoption of digital health tools, and this requirement has significantly increased in importance during the last three years, the survey found.

Physicians also said EHR integration and data privacy were important requirements for digital health tools. The survey also found there was a notable increase in the importance of peer review validation as a physician requirement for digital health tools.

For the first time, the AMA survey asked physicians about their awareness and current use of emerging technologies, such as augmented intelligence, blockchain, and precision medicine. Levels of awareness greatly exceed adoption rates, but the survey found more than one-third of physicians intend to adopt emerging technologies within the year. The interest was highest for use with chronic care patients.