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Majority of Americans don’t use digital technology to access doctors

Nielsen survey shows gaps in availability that must be fixed to improve patient care

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 04, 2015) – Today, Americans manage much of their lives through digital and electronic tools, except when it comes to healthcare. According to a new Nielsen survey released today by the Council of Accountable Physician Practices and the Bipartisan Policy Center, a majority of Americans are unaware of or don’t have access to the technology they could use to communicate with their doctors for better quality health care.

“Having ready access to a doctor is vital to high quality healthcare. Yet the busy schedules of consumers and physicians alike often prevent timely attention to routine and urgent healthcare problems in the traditional 9 to 5 physician office visit options. Digital technologies can help overcome the barriers to accessing medical care, yet our survey shows that these tools are not available to most Americans,” said Robert Pearl, M.D., Chairman of the Council of Accountable Physician Practices and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group and the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. “Healthcare providers must step up our adoption of these common-sense and available solutions if we are truly going to reform healthcare delivery.”

The survey, conducted by Nielsen Strategic Health Perspectives, polled more than 5,000 Americans ages 18 and over, and looked at attitudes about and use of technology to inform, access and manage their medical care.

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Results from those surveyed showed that:

  • Less than half – 45 percent – receive even the traditional telephone appointment reminders.
  • Only one in five – 21 percent – have access to online appointment scheduling with their doctors.
  • Fifteen percent use email to communicate with their provider.
  • Just 14 percent have 24/7 access to medical advice.
  • Fewer than one in ten – 9 percent – receive reminders by text.
  • Only a small percentage – 3 percent – are able to send a photo of a medical condition over email.
  • Just 2 percent have access to video visits.

The survey also highlighted four consumer groups who were most interested in gaining greater access to their doctors through digital and electronic technology: parents with children covered under their health plans, chronically ill patients, patients with acute conditions, and adults under 35 years of age.

The data also showed that consumers who don’t currently have access to their providers through electronic or digital communications are most interested in ready access and online interactions: 36 percent preferred traditional telephone-based medical advice, while 34 and 36 percent, respectively, expressed interest in one-way engagement such as online appointment scheduling and online portals to access test results.

“These findings emphasize how few patients and providers are actually using the technologies that we use in most other aspects of our daily lives,” said Janet Marchibroda, Director of Health Innovation at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “A lack of appropriate incentives as well as regulatory and legislative barriers have prevented many healthcare providers’ from implementing these technologies. Yet as healthcare organizations are increasingly responsible for improving the health of large populations, they must rely more on efficient, technology-driven patient-physician relationships to achieve performance goals. That means society must create incentives that facilitate adoption of these tools and technologies.”

Some technologies showed wider gaps between usage and interest than others among the people surveyed: 36 percent of adults were interested in a 24/7 telephone line for medical advice, yet only 14 percent had used such a tool; 28 percent were interested in text appointment reminders, yet only 9 percent had used them; and 26 percent were interested in submitting photos of conditions in preparation for phone or email consultations, yet only 3 percent had used such tools. Additionally, “virtual care” innovations, such as telemedicine, were found to be almost completely inaccessible to the average patient.

“Within these survey findings, it is important to note that the gaps between usage and interest levels may be an awareness issue. Consumers who expressed low interest levels in certain technologies may actually have limited awareness of available tools and the possible beneficial impact these applications may have,” noted Jennifer Colamonico, VP of Healthcare Insights and Chair at Strategic Health Perspectives, Nielsen Consumer Insights North America. “If consumers aren’t familiar with all the options, or cannot imagine how those options could enhance their healthcare experience, they place little value in such options. But consumer education can increase demand for and usage of these tools.”

Pearl concluded, “Our CAPP medical groups and health systems are committed to integrating the appropriate technologies to ensure that patients receive the high quality, coordinated and convenient care they deserve. The findings in this survey show that we all must ramp up our efforts to use technology to support the patient-doctor relationship and improve medical outcomes. Appropriate technology used in the context of accountable, coordinated care settings will improve access and produce better results. If we don’t take these steps, our efforts in population health management and in delivering accountable care will be seriously hampered.”

To see videos of real-life patients whose lives and health have been impacted by the appropriate use of healthcare technologies, click here.

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