Digital health services are on the rise, according to survey

Consumer Choices

Rock Health’s fourth annual Digital Health Consumer Adoption survey, entitled “Beyond Wellness For the Healthy: Digital Health Consumer Adoption 2018,” revealed rising usage of digital health services and technologies. Increasing choices of wearables, apps, telemedicine and other tech-enabled services enable consumers to check out going digital for health needs.

This time the survey showed that consumers leverage digital health tools to address concrete health needs. More Americans are using digital health to manage diagnoses, connect with providers and make critical healthcare decisions than ever before.

In 2018, people used digital health tools at a higher rate than ever before. Eighty-nine percent of respondents used at least one digital health tool?—?up from 80 percent in 2015. Live video telemedicine and wearable adoption rates surged following a plateau in 2017. Respondents were increasingly guarded about their personal health data. In 2018, respondents were less willing to share data with highly-trusted entities such as providers and insurance companies than in 2017.

In the past year, respondents said that they were using wearables to manage a diagnosis and using them less to motivate a physically active lifestyle. Monitoring physical activity is the top reason for wearable use, but only 44 percent of wearable owners said that physical activity was the top reason for their wearable use, down from 54 percent in 2017. This 10 percent decrease reflects a 10 percent increase in respondents using a wearable to manage a diagnosis. Wearables are going from fitness and wellness to tracking clinically meaningful data for patients and providers.

Adoption rates for telemedicine exploded in 2018, with 75 percent of consumers using at least one channel to access remote care, up from 68 percent in 2017. While telemedicine could extend healthcare access for consumers in rural areas, the rural respondents accessed these services far less frequently than urban respondents. Adoption of at least one form of telemedicine was 67 percent for rural residents and 80 percent for urban residents.

While growth in live video telemedicine has increased six-fold in just three years, there are huge disparities between urban and rural consumers. Older people are being left behind as well. In spite of the uneven adoption, it was a big year for telemedicine in the US. The increase in adoption rates followed passage of the CHRONIC Care Act in February of 2018. The act extends telemedicine coverage to patients in Medicare Advantage plans and accountable care organizations.

Entities that seemed to be highly trusted in the past (physicians and health plans) lost credibility in 2018. Consumers were less willing to share data with them than they were in 2017. On average, these entities lost 8.8 percent of respondents willing to share their health data between 2017 and 2018. One possible reason is shifting public sentiment about data privacy and security after the Cambridge Analytica and other tech company scandals. Distrust of big technology is likely to impact the healthcare industry.

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