Looking for health information online is just part of being a normal, mainstream health consumer, according to the third Rock Health Digital Health Consumer Adoption Survey published this week. By 2017, 8 in 10 U.S. adults were online health information hunters.

Six in 10 Americans looked for reviews of healthcare providers online, another new-normal consumer digital health activity.

But only one in four people had used wearable technology for health, and one in five had participated in a live video telemedicine encounter.

The Rock Health team observes that “the needle has not moved equally across every type of digital health solution.” Thus the team’s choice of title for the report: “Healthcare consumers in a digital transition.” 

Those consumers who have adopted some form of digital health tool, whether wearable tech, telehealth visit, or mobile app, seem satisfied with their experiences, which is another key aspect of the so-called “digital transition.” If user experience is positive, then consumers will sustain their use of the innovation over time — a barrier which health-focused wearables, in particularly, have encountered. In this study, one in four wearable tech owners said they no longer used the device. The reason for abandoning device use split between folks who had achieved their goal versus those who said the tech was ineffective for achieving their goal.

The top reasons consumers cited for adopting wearable tech were to be physically active (54%), to lose weight (40%), to sleep better (24%), and to manage stress (18%). Each of these use cases achieved a utility-index of over 7 points out of ten, with the Holy Grail of weight loss the lowest achiever at 7.1 — still well above an average “5.”

The Rock team examined consumer perspectives across five digital health activities and four patient segments: chronically ill seniors, the vulnerable, the worried well, and aging adults. More worried well tended to have accessed all five digital health categories: telemedicine via live ideo, digital health goal tracking, wearables, searching for online health information, and searching for provider reviews.

Looking at older people, chronically ill seniors had much lower utilization of digital health tools (except for online searching) compared with aging adults.

It’s clear that digital health adoption is much higher among younger, higher-income adults, and that vulnerable and chronically ill people lag in adoption of digital health tools.

These findings are based on Rock Health’s survey of some 4,000 U.S. adults; the poll was fielded in 2017.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Trust is fundamental to a consumer’s health engagement. Rock Health’s 2018 survey reinforces what we know-we know about consumers’ willingness to share health data — and that is that the physician, above all health care entities, is the patient’s most trusted data steward.

At the other end of the health data trust spectrum are government agencies and pharmaceutical companies, who rank low on consumer confidence for keeping personal health information secure.

It’s good news and bad news that physicians are so highly trusted as health data shepherds. But doctors are so burned out on EHR implementations, along with multi-tasking the management of payors and health plan types at this moment of migrating from volume-to-value. The challenge here is how health IT can be designed with the users in mind, and that means both clinicians and patients as users.

A longer-term solution would be for consumers to control their own health data in secure data lockers. There are early blockchain-enabled examples of this emerging, dotted around the world.  Check out Estonia and Switzerland for case studies on that.

In the meantime, in the U.S., our fragmented approach to health care financing and delivery inhibits scaling of digital health technologies like telehealth and remote health monitoring – but in a transition mode, as the Rock report theorizes. The adoption curve is inflecting…but not for all patients, especially the most vulnerable and chornically ill, not just yet.

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