Survey: Growth in consumer digital adoption is stalling

The pandemic provided a boost to adoption in some areas, but barriers continue to stymie more widespread interest.

Consumers’ use of digital technology has plateaued, except in the area of telemedicine, where the COVID-19 pandemic forced people into using it to obtain treatment, according to a new survey on people’s healthcare experiences.

Several other types of technology declined significantly in use or remained flat this past year, according to the survey of nearly 1,800 people in the United States, conducted by global professional services company Accenture.

The research found that 32 percent of respondents had a virtual consult with a provider this past year, up from 7 percent before the pandemic, and that remote patient monitoring tripled. These increases, in turn, resulted in more use of electronic health records systems.

But consumers’ use of mobile phone or tablet apps dropped from 35 percent to 18 percent, and their use of social media and online support fell from 29 percent to 12 percent. The use of wearables stayed about the same.

Moreover, while virtual consults soared compared with last year, adoption overall wasn’t pervasive – some 48 percent of respondents have never had a virtual healthcare appointment, the Accenture study noted.

One reason for hesitancy in adopting digital health is consumers’ concerns that health data won’t be kept secure and private. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents reported that the greater use of virtual care made them more aware of their privacy and security needs.

Consumers reported that they also were more likely to trust their providers with their personal health information than insurers, technology companies or the government. Fully 73 percent of those surveyed were considering whether they had the right to provide consent to the collection and use of their data beyond their treatment.

“There’s been an erosion of trust. Because of COVID, people’s expectations regarding the right to collect [data] is more restrictive than the current regulatory environment,” said Kaveh Safavi, senior managing director for global health at Accenture and one of the co-authors of the survey. 

Another barrier to healthcare was affordability. Slightly more than half (52 percent) of Baby Boomers reported that they’ve never had trouble affording treatment or medication, but that suggests that half have sometimes struggled with those costs. Younger consumers had an even tougher time; only 30 percent of Gen-Xers and 27 percent of Millennials had no trouble affording healthcare. 

Overall only 14 percent of people with affordability problems ever used digital technology for healthcare, suggesting the cost-efficiency potential of these tools is untapped.

Interestingly, one’s age affected how a person responded to affordability issues. “Boomers avoided or reduced treatment. Younger people were more likely to seek digital alternatives and financial assistance,” Safavi said.

The survey also found that two-thirds of respondents reported having a negative healthcare experience; of this group, fully three-fourths stated that the bad experience resulted in a consequence that limited healthcare effectiveness, such as stress or choosing not to seek care when needed. Consumers also want not only good clinical judgment; they also want emotional support.

“People assume the technical quality will be there, and judge experience on the nonclinical aspects of care,” said Safavi.

The 2021 survey,  Digital Adoption in Healthcare: Reaction or Revolution, acknowledged that healthcare technology accomplished much during the pandemic, but that there was room to build. The survey’s authors recommended that healthcare experiences be made simpler, more coordinated, empathetic and more effective, and involve all stakeholders, not just providers. “Technology can help solve many issues, but the benefits of using digital to access and manage one’s care are not always rated important by people or considered among the first options for care. Members of the healthcare ecosystem must present information about benefits more clearly to boost adoption and demonstrate to people how technology can support a more human healthcare experience,” they concluded.

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