This is article one of four in a miniseries called Digital Health Consumer Adoption in where we examine the four key findings from the Rock Health|Stanford 2020 Consumer Adoption Report. This article will be a high-level overview of the report results, while the remaining three miniseries posts will dissect the four key findings.
Health systems are under tremendous pressure to provide convenient access to care for patients while tightly managing operational costs. At the same time, over the past decade, patients (consumers) have taken a more active role in educating themselves and directly managing their health. And with more than 80 percent of consumers now researching their healthcare options, new technologies provide consumers new ways to engage in healthy living and manage certain conditions. In other words, technology is empowering consumers to take control of their health.
In the era of digital technology, consumerism in healthcare means patients demand the same kind of seamless digital experience they get when dealing with other service-oriented industries. The idea of healthcare consumerism is to empower patients to be involved in their health care decisions throughout every step of the patient journey. Telehealth technologies, tools, and services are becoming a vital component of the health care system. In Rock Health’s 2020 Market Insights Report: Chasing a new equilibrium, confidence in digital health technologies and tools’ potential continued to progress, as venture capital dollars flowed to US digital health companies at a new all-time high, with over $14B invested across 440 deals.
2020 Digital Health Consumer Adoption Report Overview
Rock Health and the Stanford Center for Digital Health produced the six annual Digital Health Consumer Adoption Report to understand how consumer behavior in 2020 compared to the five prior years of data collected. Since 2015, Rock Health has annually surveyed 4,000 consumers to understand consumer adoption of digital health technologies. For the 2020 report, the sample size was nearly doubled to allow for more in-depth subgroup analysis and the complete ability to measure consumer behavior changes in light of the pandemic.
During the five years leading up to 2020, the adoption of digital health steadily climbed. The pandemic accelerated adoption even further, and the rise continued. However, the rate of change in adoption differed by technology and by subgroup. One interesting note in the executive summary of the report is that though not a universal finding, some of the 2020 data suggest that the pandemic acted more to reinforce and accelerate underlying trends rather than to draw in new consumer subgroups as digital health users.
Four Themes and Key Findings
The Rock Health|Stanford white paper explored four specific questions in regards to consumer adoption. The four questions, or Themes, are outlined below.
- Theme #1: How has telemedicine adoption changed? Telemedicine use before and during the pandemic.
- Theme #2: Who still hasn’t adopted telemedicine? Barriers to accessing telemedicine abound more than expected.
- Theme #3: How are consumers using digital health tracking tools differently during COVID-19? Unpacking the trends in health tracking and the use of wearables.
- Theme #4: How have consumers’ data-sharing preferences changed during the pandemic? A look at consumer trust and willingness to share health data.
Digital Health Adoption Report Key Findings
The four key findings from the report.
How has telemedicine adoption changed? Telemedicine use before and during the pandemic.
Increased use in live video telemedicine.
After leveling off between 2018 and 2019, live video care adoption increased 11% (from 32% to 43%) in 2020, indicating the significant and swift shift to live video.
Telemedicine is not reaching new demographic populations in significant numbers.
Those most likely to use telemedicine in 2020 remained consistent with past years: higher-income earners, middle-aged adults (aged 35-54), highly educated, and those with chronic conditions.
High consumer satisfaction with telemedicine.
But this may be just a relief to have an avenue of care during the pandemic. Satisfaction with live video visits was higher than in previous years. However, this could have been by the lack of a viable (or safe) alternative for an in-person visit.
The use of non-video forms of telemedicine is down.
Alongside the massive increase in reported live video use, fewer consumers reported using other telemedicine methods (e.g., live phone visits, text messaging, and email) than in past years.
Consumers used considerably less healthcare overall (both in-person and via telemedicine), lowering the number of consumers who reported using telemedicine in the survey.
The future of tech-enabled care models may not be revealed in how consumers are currently adopting telemedicine.
In 2020, the most common reason for accessing telemedicine was a medical emergency, and the most common channel was through a patient’s own doctor/clinician.
Who still hasn’t adopted telemedicine? Barriers to accessing telemedicine abound more than expected.
Preference of in-person care by those not using telemedicine.
Most respondents (70%) used at least one form of telemedicine (i.e., live video, live phone, text, email, app, pic, or video message).
However, 30% of respondents reported not accessing any form of telemedicine. Most of this group stated their preference is still to discuss health in-person.
This represents a large untapped consumer market with opportunities for startups, investors, and healthcare enterprises to explore further how to meet this population’s needs.
There is still no useful data as to whether this delay in care affected health outcomes.
How are consumers using digital health tracking tools differently during COVID-19? Unpacking the trends in health tracking and wearable use.
Increased use of digital trackers and wearables.
Wearable ownership and use increased ten percentage points from 33% in 2019 to 43% in 2020, after not growing between 2018 and 2019.
Emerging spaces such as women’s health—for fertility and menstrual tracking—may have contributed to the proliferation of digital monitoring: 83% of women who track their fertility and 67% of those tracking their menstrual cycle used digital methods.
The consumer groups most likely to track their health digitally were under 55 years old, respondents with chronic conditions, higher-income earners, and urban respondents.
Wearable adoption faces similar demographic population disparities as telemedicine.
Wearable use is still low in select subgroups.
Similar to telemedicine findings, the data points to a digital divide that continues to favor adoption among suburban, higher-income, highly educated adults.
How have consumers’ data-sharing preferences changed during the pandemic? A look at consumer trust and willingness to share health data.
Consumers still do not equally trust everyone with their data.
Willingness to share personal healthcare data remains mostly unchanged from previous years. In some instances, consumers are more likely to be willing to share their COVID-19 results than other personal health information.
Digital Health Adoption Part 2
Digital tools that facilitate innovative methods and modalities to improve health care, enable lifestyle change, and create efficiencies are progressing quickly. Digital health technologies and tools are long-term investments that will net great returns. In the last decade, we have changed care models by virtualizing medicine, where it makes clinical and economic sense.
In part 2 of the Digital Health Adoption miniseries, we will explore theme 1 of the Rock Health|Stanford 2020 report, How has telemedicine adoption changed? Telemedicine use before and during the pandemic.
About Rock Health
Rock Health accelerates technology-driven solutions that make healthcare and wellbeing vastly more affordable, accessible, effective, and equitable.
About The Stanford Center for Digital Health (CDH)
The Stanford Center for Digital Health (CDH) is a Stanford University resource that provides tools, opportunities, evidence generation, and expertise to further collaboration and promote the School of Medicine’s strategic vision of being digitally driven in all things related to healthcare. Backed by Stanford University and the ingenuity of Silicon Valley, the CDH is focused on advancing the next generation of healthcare solutions through meaningful collaboration and exploration by helping to build better products, facilitate better experiences, and promote better outcomes.