Rock Health, Stanford report: Consumerization of health reshaping doctor-patient relationships, data conversations

This year 42% of survey-takers reported using at least one digital health tracking tool.
By Laura Lovett

This week Rock Health released a new report conducted in partnership with Stanford University that analyzes how the consumerization of healthcare is shaping the future of the industry. It broke down three major trends: how patient data is creating opportunities and challenges in the field, how online health information is changing the provider relationship and attitudes over a consumer’s willingness to share health data. 

Researchers found that over the last two years, more patients are using digital health tracking tools, and in turn are sharing the data from those tools with their providers. Patients are also seeking health information online to inform discussions with their doctors — often in the form of self-diagnosing, coming up with treatment plans and asking to add or stop a medication. 

“Consumers have begun to expect the benefits of technology to be part of their healthcare experiences — but with the benefits come tradeoffs,” authors of the report wrote. “While industry players amass large datasets to drive discovery and insight, consumers are increasingly particular about who they will share their health data with. There is reason for cautious optimism — large-scale collaborations between the healthcare and technology sectors and the now-commonplace adoption of digital health tools suggest a hopeful future for patients where interoperability, security, autonomy and safety coexist in healthcare.”

TOPLINE DATA

The number of participants using digital health tracking has grown every year since 2015, with 42% of participants reporting that they use these at least one of these tools. Seventy-five percent of participants that tracked their health through digital tools shared the data with a medical professional.  

“This increased integration of patient-collected data into patient-provider discussions may represent an opportunity to empower patients who want to play an active role in their care. More survey respondents who used a digital tracking tool shared data with their physician than their analog-reliant (paper and pencil) peers,” the authors wrote. 

The report found that the most popular use of digital health tools was looking up health information on the internet (76%). 

Usership of live video telemedicine visits remains low (32%); however, the percentage of users has grown over time from 7% in 2015. 

When it comes to sharing data with others, participants were most likely to share with their physicians (73%) and least likely to share with tech companies (10%). However, it is important to note that overall, survey takers were less willing to share data today than they were in 2017. For example, in 2017 86% of participants said they would share data with physicians, while today that number has dropped by 13 percentage points. 

Online health information is also changing the relationship between patients and providers. This is particularly true when it comes to the younger generations. In fact, 68% of people ages 18 to 34 years proposed a diagnosis to their doctor based on online health resources, whereas 41% of people over the age of 55 years proposed a diagnosis. 

However, this move towards consumerization has its pros and cons. 

“Online health information may help patients and families take a more active role in defining a care plan alongside providers when they choose to do so. But not all online medical information is good information (and misinformation can yield terrifying results),” the authors wrote. “Based on the past five years of survey data, both patients and doctors should expect online information to remain a part of the information flow between doctor and patient, and hopefully the predominant models that surface will put evidence-based information at the center of the discussion.”

HOW IT WAS DONE

Toluna USA conducted a poll of 4,000 adults in the US. Participants were those already enrolled in Toluna's incentivized polling service, with a sample selected that would be representive of the general US population. The survey's response rate was 22%. 

In addition to the recent survey sent out over the summer, this report builds on previously-collected data from Rock Health Consumer Adoption reports from 2015 to 2018. All of the data were anonymized. 

THE LARGER TREND

Today the consumerization of healthcare is a hot topic. From consumer fitness apps to googling symptoms, technology is changing the way people interact with the health system. Rock Health's survey has been ongoing since 2015. While on the whole health technology adoption is trending upwards, some technologies such as live video telemedicine visits and online information searches have dipped slightly from 2018 to 2019.