Many doctors still don't practice virtual medicine

Call it the great divide in digital healthcare. Patients want more self-service web tools to better manage their health, wellness and healthcare business affairs but implementation of digital tools by doctors is languishing, according to a new survey from Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

The Deloitte survey of 4,530 consumers and 624 physicians found that doctors and patients agree on the benefits of virtual care. Consumers point to convenience and access (64%) as important benefits and physicians agree that virtual care improves patient access to care (66%), improves patient satisfaction (52%) and allows them to stay connected with patients and their caregivers (45%).

But the survey also found that what patients want from digital healthcare currently exceeds the capacity for most physicians to give it to them. For example, of consumers who said they had never used virtual care, 57% said they are willing to try it. Physicians, however, appear less enthusiastic—just 14% of surveyed physicians offer virtual visits. Among those who don’t have the technology, only 18% say they intend to add the capability within the next two years.

Just 14% of surveyed physicians offer virtual visits. Among those who don’t have the technology, only 18% say they intend to add the capability within the next two years.

50% of consumers also say they use wearables and other technology to track their health information, and 53% of patients share this information with their doctors. But physicians are often either unable to use patient-generated data or they do not see the value in the data, Deloitte says. Only 9% of physicians say they have implemented technology for remote monitoring and/or integration of data from wearables, and of the physicians or group practices who have not implemented this technology, 27% intend to incorporate it during the next one to two years.

Many physicians fear there is greater chance for medical error if they are not physically interacting with the patient, and about one-third of physician respondents cited data security as an area of concern. Despite these issues, the 90% of the doctors surveyed by Deloitte say they understand the potential benefits of virtual care, especially when it comes to helping improve patient experience. “Our study results indicate that physicians consider chronic-condition management to be the most promising use of virtual care technologies,” says Deloitte U.S. healthcare providers leader vice chairman Steve Burrill.

Physicians who are employed by or affiliated with a hospital or health system are more likely than independent physicians to have implemented some type of virtual care technology in the past year—62% vs. 49%, Deloitte says.

Other survey findings include:

  • 44% of surveyed physicians have not implemented any virtual care technologies. The technology implemented most so far is e-mail/patient portal consultations (38%), followed by physician-to-physician electronic consultations (17 %) and virtual/video visits (14 %). For technologies—remote care management and coaching, remote patient monitoring at home, remote patient monitoring at other facilities and integration of wearables—reported adoption is in single digits.
  • Primary care physicians are likelier to have implemented virtual care technologies than specialists. For instance, 48% of primary care physicians implemented portals vs. 34% of specialists; 17% implemented video visits vs. 13% of specialists; 11% implemented remote care management and coaching compared with 6% of specialists; and 9% have integrated wearables data vs. 3% of specialists.
  • When it comes to usage, e-mail/patient portal consultations are used most often. Among physicians who have implemented portals, 64% use them regularly (once a week or more). Portal use is higher among primary care physicians (74%) than among specialists (57%). Two in five physicians (43%) with access to electronic consultations with colleagues use them at least once a week, whereas just a third regularly use the video visit technology available to them.

“Our survey data suggests that experience with new technologies could help physicians warm up to virtual care,” Burrill says. “For example, physicians who have implemented at least one type of virtual care technology are somewhat less likely to voice concerns about medical errors when compared to physicians who have not.”


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