For patients, docs' digital prowess still underwhelms

'Most practices have not yet fully adopted digital services'
By Erin McCann
11:05 AM
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Patients have said it, and they'll keep saying it until they get what they want: More and more of them want their docs to go digital. But, as a new report highlights, many docs are still dragging their feet with technology big time. 
 
The recent patient engagement report, which took the pulse of what patients want from their doctor in terms of digital health, underscored the disconnect. Despite the surge in electronic medical records, the meaningful use Stage 2 push toward patient engagement, portals and health information exchange, most docs have been slow on the digital uptake and are still not giving patients what they want. 
 
 
In fact, according to the report conducted by technology research and consulting firm TechnologyAdvice, more than 37 percent of patients reported their physicians offered none of six digital services categories examined, including secure messaging; online appointment scheduling; online test results and follow up messages. 
 
For an industry that's supposedly made a huge push toward digital – and a consumer base that's been digital for a while now – the numbers could be viewed as disappointing, especially considering that the lion's share of patients, 61 percent to be exact, said they considered digital health services to be important or somewhat important in choosing a healthcare provider. Those are numbers, from a business point of view, that may be very telling for how a healthcare practice or hospital operates. 
 
Out of the 406 patients surveyed at the beginning of 2015, 20 percent reported their physicians had secure online messaging, and 28 percent had access to online test results or diagnoses, despite 33 percent who want their physician to offer this capability. Moreover, another 20 percent of patients surveyed said they wanted a smartphone app for appointment scheduling.
 
 
"Despite the healthcare industry's continued focus on (patient engagement), most practices have not yet fully adopted digital services," wrote Cameron Graham, managing editor at TechnologyAdvice, in a blog post announcing the report. 
 
Not all patients consider digital health services a priority, however, according to the data. Some 35 percent of them said they didn't want any of the digital services examined in the report,  a "significant proportion," authors pointed out, "but overall represents a comparatively small group of patients who do not desire digital services" – some 65 percent of patients did want digital health services offered by their physicians.  
 
Although most physician practices have adopted some type of electronic medical record, thanks in large part to federal meaningful use incentives, most docs still have yet to move forward with all other health IT initiatives. In fact, after examining data from the 2009-2013 Health Records Survey, researchers at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and ONC found nationwide only 30 percent of physicians "routinely used capabilities for secure messaging with patients," and even less, some 24 percent, had the capabilities to allow patients to view, download or transmit their health records. 
 
 
Despite the numbers, most physicians say they're not anti-technology, with data from PwC finding, in many areas of digital health, clinicians are, for the most part, on board. But there's still that gap between what providers are saying about digital health and what they're actually doing. As PwC researchers pointed out, only 15 percent of clinicians offer telehealth for one. The story for many of them is that health IT initiatives are costly and altogether time consuming.