Small survey: Most physicians discuss apps, wearables with patients

By Brian Dolan
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Earlier this month a small MedPanel survey of 415 physicians practicing in the US reportedly found that a very small percentage of them -- just 15 percent -- were discussing health apps or wearables with their patients. After reviewing the raw survey results, however, it's clear the company's press release misstated its survey's findings. (The company has since corrected and updated it).

One section of the small survey actually found that 71 percent of the physicians it surveyed had discussed health apps and wearables with at least one percent of their patients in the previous six months. Elsewhere in the survey it is indicated that as many as 83 percent of the physicians surveyed have had these conversations with patients. MedPanel suggested to MobiHealthNews that the actual figure likely lies between the two. Regardless, it's clear 15 percent is way off the mark.

Other media outlets reported on the survey's findings and these inaccurate reports have likely triggered misguided conversations about how few physicians are discussing digital health with their patients, while the actual results reveal just the opposite. 

That said, while a majority of physicians are having these conversations with at least some of their patients, it appears a majority of patients are not.

MedPanel Digital Health Survey

The firm asked what percentage of their patients had physicians held these discussions with (which is where the original confusion came from) and the average response to that survey question was: about 15 percent. So, 15 percent, that's the portion of their patient population that the average physician has discussed apps and wearables with.

Interestingly, physicians who had talked to patients about digital health tools in the past few months were often not the ones initiating the conversation. When asked to breakdown who typically initiated these conversations, the average response was that 37 percent of the interactions were physician-initiated, 44 percent were patient-initiated, 9 percent were started by a caregiver, and 10 percent were begun by someone else.

The survey also breaks down the types of physicians who are most likely to have these conversations with patients.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the conversations are more likely to take place if a patient's physician is a part of an ACO -- 77 percent of physicians surveyed who were in an ACO said they had had that kind of conversation with some of their patients in the past six months. Some 90 percent of physicians who own a wearable or use health apps have had discussions about apps or wearables with their patients in the past six months, too. About 33 percent of the physicians participating in the survey were self-described health app or wearable users.

In recent years physician organizations have been actively encouraging members to talk to patients about digital health tools, and previous surveys show that a fair number have been doing just that. For example, about a year ago about a third of doctors said they had recommended a health app to a patient, based on Manhattan Research data.

While small, if the MedPanel survey is to be believed, then a majority of physicians in the US today are helping to drive awareness of apps and wearables as well as being asked to explain or recommend them by patients and caregivers.