Doctors and digital health tools: Enthusiasm builds, but there’s room to grow

Most doctors say they see the value in telehealth and remote patient monitoring, but they just beginning to incorporate augmented intelligence, an American Medical Association survey finds.

Doctors are increasingly using digital health tools, and they are expressing more enthusiasm for employing them more in the future, an American Medical Association survey found.

While doctors are looking ahead to using some emerging technologies, only a small portion of doctors are using augmented intelligence in their practices, the AMA study found.

The AMA surveyed 1,300 doctors in 2016, 2019 and 2022. Over that six-year span, doctors have expressed a greater appreciation for digital health tools and their ability to improve patient care.

More than 9 in 10 doctors (93%) said digital health tools can improve patient care in 2022, up from 86% in 2016. The increases were seen in primary care physicians and specialists, and they were consistent across all age groups, the AMA said.

Doctors are increasingly using digital tools to help care for patients remotely.

Perhaps not surprisingly, physicians’ use of telehealth soared during the six-year period. In 2022, 80% of doctors engaged in telehealth visits, a huge increase from 2016, when only 14% of physicians were engaging in virtual care. Telehealth care has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, and healthcare groups are pressing Washington to extend waivers for telehealth.

Doctors are also increasingly employing remote patient monitoring in patient care. Almost one-third of doctors (30%) said they are using remote patient monitoring in 2022, up from 12% in 2016. With remote patient monitoring, physicians and health systems use devices to help track patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, and potentially intervene earlier as needed.

Jack Resneck Jr., president of the AMA, said in a statement that the survey shows doctors are seeing the value in digital health tools.

“The physician adoption rate of digital health tools has accelerated as physicians grow increasingly optimistic about the advantages that properly designed digital health tools can have for patient care if key requirements are met,” Resneck said. “The AMA survey illustrates the importance physicians place on validated digital health tools that improve health while streamlining the technological and administrative burdens faced each day in medicine.”

At the same time, Resneck said digital tools must be used to help closed disparities in healthcare among disadvantaged groups. “These technologies also must be designed and deployed in ways that advance health equity,” Resneck said.

While there have been encouraging findings about the use of telehealth, a federal report issued earlier this year found Black, Hispanic and Asian patients were less likely to use video telehealth services. Some healthcare advocates also have warned that telehealth services must be improved so those with visual impairments can have easier access to virtual care.

Doctors showed the most enthusiasm for telehealth (57%) and remote patient monitoring (53%), the survey found.

Only a small percentage of doctors are using augmented intelligence in their practices currently, but the survey found more physicians plan to do so in the near future. Currently, less than 1 in 5 doctors are using augmented intelligence, but nearly two in five said they plan to do so in the next year.

Doctors said they are using 3.8 digital tools on average in 2022, up from 2.2 in 2016, the survey found.

Roughy 3 out of 5 doctors said digital tools help improve patient care, as well as reducing administrative burdens on staff.

Most doctors have expressed confidence in the use of digital tools to improve patient care, surveys have found. Last month, the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) released a report finding most doctors welcome the use of digital tools to help patients manage diseases.

However, health systems must give doctors proper training so they can use digital health tools effectively, Darryl Gibbings-Isaac, a senior manager in Accenture's Health Strategy Practice, said in a HIMSS forum in August.

“If they don’t understand how to use them,” he said, “how can they put them to work for their patients?”