More consumers are using digital health to manage complex health conditions, Rock Health says

The report also showed a decline in consumers' willingness to share data with healthcare stakeholders.
By Laura Lovett
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As the adoption of digital health continues to climb among consumers, how customers are using that technology is evolving. Instead of a narrow focus on general health and fitness, users are starting to employ digital health to manage complex conditions, according to a recent Rock Health study

“Consumers continue to go digital and are now doing so not just out of curiosity or for general fitness and well-being — but with the intention to address concrete health needs,” authors of the report wrote. “More Americans use digital health to manage diagnoses, connect with providers, and make critical healthcare decisions, than ever before.”

Top line data

From telemedicine adoption to online research, the use of digital health has increased across the board between 2017 and 2018. Eighty percent of survey respondents reported using online health information in 2018, up 1 percent from the previous year. The use of live video telemedicine increased from 19 percent in 2017 to 34 percent in 2018. 

When it comes to wearables, consumers were using the tech to address more complex conditions than in the past. Researchers also found that fewer survey takers were using wearables to track physical activity, train for fitness routines, or lose weight than the year before. However, more users were using the technology to monitor sleep or manage a diagnosis than in past years. 

While telemedicine is often floated as a balm for low healthcare accessibility out in the country, the report outlined that urban residents were still much more likely to use the service than their rural counterparts. 

“Despite the potential for telemedicine to extend healthcare access to consumers in rural areas, rural respondents utilized these services far less frequently than urban respondents,” researchers wrote. “Adoption of at least one form of telemedicine was 67 percent for rural residents and 80 percent for urban residents.”

Overall, people were less willing to share their data this year than in previous years. Participants were most likely to share their data with their doctors (72 percent), health insurers (49 percent), pharmacies (47 percent) and research institutes (35 percent). However, researchers found that on average the four most trusted entities lost 8.8 percent of respondents willing to share their data between 2017 and 2018. 

“One explanation is shifting public sentiment around data privacy and security following the Cambridge Analytica and other tech company scandals,” authors wrote. “Distrust of big tech likely impacts the healthcare industry.”

Perhaps it is no surprise then that only 11 percent of survey responders said they would be willing to share their health data with a tech company. Among that 11 percent of responders, people were most willing to share their data with Google, Amazon and Microsoft. People were least willing to share data with Facebook and IBM.

How it was done

The results come from Rock Health's 2018 Digital Health Consumer Adoption Survey, the fourth consecutive edition of the survey. The received responses from more than 4,000 participants across the US, all over the age of 18. 

The background

Thinking in healthcare is shifting. Patients are beginning to act as consumers and are expecting more out of the health system. Patients are increasingly expected to take on more of the cost burden with high deductible health plans and more expensive copays. In addition, new technologies are helping the consumer get more information about their health. 

“We are in a world where consumers have a lot of information and we need to give them a system to figure out how do we use that information appropriately and how does it fit into managing their health,” Jennifer Sargent, chief revenue officer at Vera Whole Health, said at HIMSS19's Consumerization of Health Symposium last week