Philips Future Health Index study looks at the difference between perception and reality in digital health evolution

By Heather Mack
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Understanding the gaps between reality and perception of digital health technologies is key to identifying how it can best be used. That was the aim of the recently released Future Health Index, a Royal Philips-commissioned international survey of healthcare professionals and the general public to gauge their readiness to implement and integrate connected care technologies.

Now in its second year, the study is based on the results of quantitative surveys, secondary data analysis and qualitative interviews with more than 33,000 people across 19 countries on five continents. Researchers worked with a sample of 3,891 healthcare professionals and 29,410 adults from the general population (each country featured a number of individuals representative of their respective adult populations).

Altogether, the Future Health Index provides a measurement to ascertain the capability of those 19 countries to address their most pressing health challenges, weighing the experiences and perceptions across three key areas: access to care, integration of health systems, and adoption of connected care technology.

There was also a separate survey, conducted in collaboration with an independent global market research firm, of 151 insurance professionals, to put the perceptions in context with what health systems are actually doing to keep up with changing technology.

Globally speaking, the largest gap between perception and reality is in health systems’ integration of connected technology and data sharing, with a difference of 31.5 points on average. Interoperability and data sharing is high on healthcare professionals wish list to fully realize the potential impact of digital health technology. Nearly a third of polled said accessible, secure data sharing platforms among their profession will have the most positive impact on citizens, enabling them to take more control over their on health.

Success on that aspect could hinge on everyone’s individual idea about how healthy they are, and that’s an area where perceptions differ. In America, 84 percent of general population survey respondents believed themselves to be healthy, but only 53 percent of healthcare professionals agreed with that.

Both parties tended to have the same perceptions on whether connected care technology could bring about improvements across the healthcare continuum, with 78 percent of each group saying digital health tools could be most useful for treating medical conditions, especially for use in diagnosis, home care and chronic disease management. Professionals in healthcare said health-monitoring devices, like wearables, smart devices or apps could be the most helpful. However, more than half of Americans are not yet using these technologies.

Similar to what we have been hearing from healthcare professionals lately, most people in the general population see connected care technologies serving more of an augmenting role than as a replacement. And for the most far-out technologies, like remote appointments with hologram doctors or robot care providers, both healthcare professionals and members of the general populations aren’t going for it.

Another internationally-felt notion was that giving patients and healthcare professionals a more active role in healthcare delivery could be a strategy towards sustainability. Almost 60 percent of healthcare professionals believe the majority of their time should be focused in treating wellness, or preventive care, rather than the current mode of treating only the sick.

“If shifting the mindset from reactive to proactive care can keep just one pre-diabetic from becoming diabetic, it’s a huge benefit to the individual and their family, and to the health system and its stretched resources,” advisory panel member Patricia Mechael said in a statement.

“Most countries are not prepared to deal with the impending growth of their over-70s populations let alone the rise we are seeing in diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases in younger populations. The costs of these trends will become unmanageable,” Mechael (who is also the executive vice president of Personal Connected Health Alliance, HIMSS), said in a statement.

As we’ve been seeing across the industry as digital health is maturing, healthcare professionals are pushing for more case studies and clinical validation of connected devices. Nearly a quarter of those polled said they would be more likely to use such devices if they had the evidence to back them up, and 19 percent said randomized control trials would be a deciding factor.

Bringing such technology into play is both parties’ responsibility, the study found. However, the onus is on healthcare professionals most of the time, and most Americans said they would be more likely to use digital health tools if their clinician recommended it (and their insurer paid for it).

“It’s the healthcare team’s responsibility to be innovative and advocate for their patients and communities in new ways. This includes continuing to look for creative solutions to provide patients seamless access to care and information sharing – whether that’s in a doctor’s office, retail clinic or from their home,” Dr. Brian Donley, chief of staff at the Cleveland Clinic, said in a statement. “Physicians must not only utilize the power of technology to connect with their patients, but should be encouraging all patients to take a more active role in managing their care, especially those living with chronic conditions. Healthcare is a team sport that needs both the medical team and the patient’s participation to produce positive outcomes.”