A new American Medical Association study reveals a spike in digital health tools among US physicians

A new study conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA) showed that between 2016 and 2019, usage of digital health solutions among physicians increased in every category measured, according to HealthLeaders Media. The study, dubbed "AMA Digital Health Research," compared data from a similar study conducted in 2016 to input received from the 1,359 study physicians in 2019.

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While there were spikes in physicians' adoption of all seven digital health solutions measured in the study, docs' use of telehealth took the most significant leap. Physician uptake of telehealth/virtual care rose 100% over three years, doubling from 14% in 2016 to 28% in 2019.

Comparatively, physician uptake of remote monitoring for efficiency grew from 12% in 2016 to 16% in 2019, while use of clinical decision support tools rose from 28% to 37%. Further, telehealth was one of only three categories that saw an increase in physician enthusiasm for digital tools, with more physicians reporting that they see a definite advantage in telehealth in 2019 than in 2016 - suggesting physician adoption of telehealth could continue to grow.

The results suggest physicians are starting to overcome their resistance to using telehealth - which may have been holding them back from using virtual care services in the past. For instance, just 18% of provider respondents to a 2018 Deloitte survey said they were planning to add virtual care capabilities in the next two years - and those who had reservations cited reasons such as potential medical errors and the security of patient information as reasons for not implementing telehealth.

But with the AMA's study showing that physician adoption of telehealth doubled from 2016-2019, it seems that providers are starting to warm to the tech, and provider reluctance may be a smaller barrier holding back uptake.

And as telehealth adoption grows among physicians, we think these solutions will see a hike in uptake in rural areas, in particular. Physicians cited the ability to provide care remotely as a top driver for using digital health solutions. And this ability is particularly valuable in rural areas, where doctor shortages are disproportionate to the rest of the country and where more than 450 hospitals are vulnerable to closures.

Considering telehealth has the ability to widen consumer access to medical professionals and specialists, we think physicians in rural regions in particular will fuel a continued spike in telehealth uptake as they look for ways to extend care to patients with a shrinking supply of medical resources.

And we've seen telehealth positively impact patient health in rural communities: In late January, for instance, the Mayo Clinic published results from a study it conducted that found that hospitals' use of virtual consultations for patients with infectious diseases reduced risk of death within 30 days and slashed rehospitalization rates.

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