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AMA sees surge in health IT adoption, 'rise of the digital-native physician'

physician holding an iPad displaying an x-ray

Its new report on emerging technologies sees appetite and aptitude growing for telehealth and virtual visits, remote patient monitoring, clinical decision support and more.

This was originally written and posted on HealthcareITNews by Mike Miliard on February 6, 2020.

Physicians' use and appreciation of information technology and digital health tools has seen a big uptick over the past five years, according to a new survey from the American Medical Association.

The AMA, which first began benchmarking how various health technologies are being integrated into clinical practice in 2016, says its new research finds physicians – more than ever – see digital health as a key driver for quality outcomes, cost efficiency and patient access.

WHY IT MATTERS The new AMA Digital Health Research sees attitudes and expectations changing among the physicians it surveyed. According to the report, adoption is encouraging across the seven categories:

  • Telehealth and virtual visits. Uptake doubled – from 14% in 2016 to 28% in 2019 – the largest growth among the digital health tool categories. This category includes audio/video connections used to see patients remotely.

  • Remote monitoring and management for improved care. Adoption of these tools – mobile apps and wearables for use by chronic disease patients for daily measurement of vital signs, such as weight, blood pressure and glucose, able to be transmitted to the physician's office – was up big: from 13% in 2016 to 22% in 2019.

  • Remote monitoring for efficiency. Specifically, uptake rose from 12% in 2016 to 16% in 2019. This category includes smart versions of common clinical devices such as thermometers, blood pressure cuffs and Bluetooth scales that can enter readings into the patient's EHR.

  • Clinical decision support. Adoption was up from 28% in 2016 to 37% in 2019. This category includes modules used in conjunction with the EHR, or mobile applications integrated with an EHR, that highlight potentially significant changes in patient data, such as weight gain/loss, change in blood chemistry, etc.

  • Patient engagement. When it comes to new tools to promote patient wellness and active participation in care for chronic diseases, such as adherence to treatment regimens, adoption rose from 26% in 2016 to 32% in 2019.

  • Point of care/workflow enhancement. Physician adoption increased modestly, 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. Uptake here rose from 53% in 2016 to 58% in 2019, 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 to ask for prescription refills, appointments and to speak with their physician.

THE LARGER TREND The biggest growth tracked by AMA was in the area of telehealth, virtual visits and remote monitoring. Something that tracks with any number of recent news stories tracking the growth, efficacy and ROI of these new modes of care delivery.

Physicians rated improved efficiency and increased safety as the most important factors driving their interest in digital health tools – with patient adherence, convenience and amelioration of physician burnout as other important imperatives.

For the first time, AMA also asked physicians for their thoughts on other leading edge emerging tech: augmented intelligence, blockchain, precision medicine and more. Awareness is much more widespread than adoption, but more than one-third of the physicians polled say they intend to pilot technologies such as those this year.

ON THE RECORD "The rise of the digital-native physician will have a profound impact on health care and patient outcomes, and will place digital health technologies under pressure to perform according to higher expectations," said AMA Board Chair Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld.

"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."

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