Report: Consumer adoption of digital health reaches "tipping point" in 2016

By Heather Mack

Consumer adoption of digital health has reached its tipping point. More people than ever are using wearable devices, accessing telemedicine, and going online to search health information. They are also more willing to pay for digital health tools, more willing to share their data, and want to take more ownership of their health, according to a new report from San Francisco-based venture fund Rock Health.

In a survey of over 4,000 consumers, Rock Health found 46 percent are considered active digital health adopters, meaning they have used three or more categories of digital health – which includes telemedicine, wearables, apps or mobile health coaching. That’s up from 19 percent just a year ago.

Consumers and are also using digital health tools at the behest of their physicians –nearly a third downloaded a health app because their doctor recommended it. The most popular metrics they record are activity, at 44 percent, and heart rate, at 31 percent. Blood pressure and medication adherence are the least-recorded metrics, at 14 and 10 percent, respectively.

Nearly a quarter of Americans own a wearable, up from 12 percent last year. With the top most popular being Samsung, Fitbit and Apple. And experts surveyed for the report said these devices could see even more adoption if they are integrated with user’s personal healthcare.

“People would be more inclined to use wearables and track their health if they knew their physician was using that information and it directly impacted their clinical care,” Boston Children’s Hospital Chief Innovation Officer John Brownstein was quoted as saying.

A big draw to adopting digital health tools could be the desire for health data ownership and control, the report found. Nearly 87 percent of survey respondents said they want to be in control of who has access to their data, and 86 percent want to know what data is collected about them.In 2016, 20 percent of consumers asked for or downloaded a copy of their electronic health record. Even with privacy and security concerns, 77 percent want to share their health information, especially with their physicians and family members. While these two groups are the most trusted by individuals, government and tech companies are the least, demonstrating that consumers feel these entities’ interests are less aligned with theirs.

“Americans are more altruistic than they are greedy,” the report authors wrote. “More people would freely share their health data to contribute to research (62 percent) than would share their data in exchange for money (42 percent).”

All tech companies aren’t viewed equally, of course, and Google was ranked the most trusted tech company in digital health. While we continuously see IBM Watson in the space, they ranked last.

The report also found 2016 was an “impressive growth year for telemedicine,” with video-based telemedicine adoption more than tripling to 22 percent usage in the last year. In 2015, only 7 percent of consumers had used it. Telephone is the most popular medium for telemedicine, followed by email and text, but the highest satisfaction is from live video. Across all platforms, though, satisfaction rates are high – 75 percent. When it comes to paying for telemedicine, consumers are still primarily responsible for the cost of telemedicine themselves, with 30 percent of visits self-paid versus 11 percent by insurers and 10 percent by employers.

Even novel consumer technologies, like virtual and augmented reality, are being used at home for things like mental health, pain management and rehabilitation. While it’s not just for younger folks, millenials are still the driving force in digital health adoption, with 40 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds surveyed reporting owning a wearable and 42 percent saying they have used synchronous video telemedicine. Folks 55 and older are still coming around to digital health slowly. While 84 percent of those aged 55 and older saying they trust their physician to keep their health data secure, only 19 percent trust tech companies to do the same. They are also less likely to use telemedicine (only 5 percent have used live video in the past year, and only one in 10 owns a wearable).

“Technology companies still have a long way to go in gaining the trust of one of healthcare’s largest consumer groups: seniors,” the report states.