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Trust Is Key as Health Data Gain More Importance


Patients and physicians are excited about digital health, but an expert said both sides must trust each other.

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Patients and physicians alike are embracing digital health, but a new survey suggests one key component of the healthcare transformation is a bit less high-tech: trust.

Ernst & Young recently released its 2018 Future of Health report, a study based on a survey of 2455 healthcare consumers, 152 physicians, and 195 healthcare executives.

On the patient side, more than half said they would feel comfortable contacting their physician using digital devices, and 7% even said they’d feel more comfortable interacting with their physician online versus in person. (But 58% still favor old-fashioned in-person consultations.)

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Moreover, a third of patients said they feel comfortable with the idea of smartphone-connected devices like fitness trackers sharing data with their physicians. More specifically, 40% said they like the idea of their physician being able to access their medical records electronically to prepare treatment plans, 54% said they’d be willing to allow smartphone technology to share with their physicians their grocery-shopping habits, and 60% said they would be fine sharing fitness and activity tracking data with a doctor.

In fact, 74% of consumers said they would be willing to share lifestyle data if it meant they would receive more comprehensive, personalized care.

Jacques Mulder, MBA, US Health Leader at EY, told Healthcare Analytics News™ that sharing personal data in a healthcare context is different than other kinds of data sharing.

“A key differentiator for the health sector is the power of the patient-physician relationship,” Mulder said. “Trust is built over time and can be significantly influenced by perceived motives.”

In general, patients believe physicians have their best interests at heart, he said. Physicians can leverage that comfort into data access, so long as they communicate clearly with patients.

“When combined with transparency about how the data will be leveraged, patients have a reasonable understanding of what physicians will do with their data and are more willing to share,” he said.

Physicians see the use of data as a means to transform not only patient care, but also the economics of healthcare. In the survey, two-thirds (66%) of physicians said they expect digital technology to reduce the burden on healthcare providers and result in lower costs. Nearly 65% said the data-generation capabilities of new technology will reduce the workload of physicians and nurses, helping to curb burnout among healthcare professionals.

Mulder said although these are still early days, there are already examples of health tech driving down costs and improving outcomes.

“While in many instances we may only be just starting to see and impact, it is alive and happening today,” he said. “One specific example where we have seen success is with diabetes management through technology.”

He said technology is enabling remote monitoring, which, combined with self-management and the help of caregivers, is reducing the patient management burden on physicians. And he said lifestyle apps—whether focused on exercise or diet—can be effective for many patients. Those lifestyle changes will have longer-term impacts, in the form of lower rates of complications and a reduction in the need for expensive interventions.

However, Mulder said, physicians must take seriously the fact that the effectiveness of these tools is built on physician-patient trust.

“The key is that there should be some control built-in which limits how much and how often information is provided to the physician,” he said. “Once communication is sent, it then needs to be accepted by the physician and caregiver and provide a rich and detailed overview about the patient’s activity, behavior, condition, and other factors.”

The full EY study can be downloaded here.

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