Telehealth Use Triples, But Doctors More Skeptical of Benefits

Patients’ access to telehealth technologies that facilitate health care services at home has tripled over the past three years. However, doctors are not entirely convinced that this and other tech has improved treatment decisions, a recent study suggests.  

The number of physicians offering tele-monitoring devices that enable patients to monitor their health has risen from 8% in 2012 to 24% in 2015, according to a new survey by Accenture (NYSE: ACN), an international consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. 

The findings are based on a global, six-country survey of 2,619 medical doctors, including 601 in the U.S., to assess their adoption of and attitudes toward electronic health records and health care IT. Responses from the 2015 survey compare with a similar study Accenture commissioned back in 2012. 

Among the most popular health care IT functions physicians use routinely, the majority of U.S. doctors use health care tech to enter patient notes (82%), send e-prescriptions (72%) and receive a patient’s clinical results into an electronic medical record (62%). 

While overall health care IT use among doctors has averaged double-digit growth since 2012, fewer physicians today believe that these types of technologies have improved treatment, reduced medical errors and improved health outcomes for patients.

Compared to physicians’ sentiments in 2012, only 46% of U.S. doctors today believed that EMRs have a positive impact on improved quality of treatment decisions. This is down from 62% who believed this in 2012. 

A similar pattern of declining sentiment was seen when it came to the impact of EMRs in reducing medical errors, as 64% of doctors believed the tech had a positive impact in 2015, compared to 72% in 2012. 

On the topic of whether EMRs can lead to improved health outcomes, 46% of doctors believed they had a positive impact in 2015, while 58% felt this way three years ago.

“Despite the rapid uptake of electronic medical records, the industry is facing the reality that digital records alone are not sufficient to driving better, more-efficient care in the long-term,” said Kaveh Safavi, M.D., J.D., who leads Accenture’s global health business.

Rather, the findings underscore the importance of adopting both technology and new care processes, while also ensuring that existing shortcomings in patient care are not further magnified by digitalization, Safavi added. 

But while technology promises easier, more streamlined ways to accomplish certain tasks and processes, issues related to complexity continue to exist.

Nearly all U.S. doctors (90%) said that better functionality and an easy-to-use system for data entry are important for improving the quality of patient care through IT; however, more than half (58%) agreed with the statement that “the electronic health record system in my organization is hard to use.”

Health care IT might not be able to produce improved patient outcomes just through the deployment of tech like telehealth and EMRs by themselves, but they could lay the groundwork for getting more patients personally engaged with their own health care.

“The industry needs to adapt to a new generation of patients who are taking proactive roles in their health care and expect to have real-time data at their fingertips,” said Safavi. “When patients have a greater role in the record-keeping process, it can increase their understanding of conditions, improve motivation and serve as a clear differentiator for clinical care provided by physicians.”

View the Accenture study.

Written by Jason Oliva