By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

It appears all physicians are using many types of digital tools to help improve patient care, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA).

In a survey of more than 1,300 physicians from many specialties (age 28-65 years), the AMA asked about seven specific digital tools: televisits/virtual visits, remote monitoring for efficiency, remote monitoring and management for improved care, clinical decision support, point of care/workflow enhancement, consumer access to clinical data, and patient engagement. Survey questions probed for familiarity, enthusiasm, level of adoption, intent to adopt, specific use, and much more.

The AMA found many more physicians are using all seven digital tools at a higher rate than in 2016, the last time the association conducted this survey. Nearly 90% of all physicians see some advantage in digital tools. Physicians use an average of 2.4 of the seven digital tools (up from an average of 2.2 in 2016). Digital tool adoption has grown in popularity among all those surveyed, regardless of gender, age, or specialty.

Of the seven tools, survey administrators found the largest increase in televisits/virtual visits use (28% in 2019 vs. 14% in 2016). Overall, this upward trend appears as though it will continue for some time (more than one-third of physicians indicated they intend to adopt emerging technologies within the year).

“The rise of the digital-native physician will have a profound impact on healthcare and patient outcomes, and will place digital health technologies under pressure to perform according to higher expectations,” AMA Board Chair Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, said in a statement.

In recent years, telemedicine has been a popular subject in many Relias Media publications, likely because, as the recent AMA survey revealed, this is such an easy tool to implement and quite effective.

For example, the November 2019 issue of Case Management Advisor includes an article about a telemedicine program that uses a case management model to help postpartum women manage hypertensive disorders. These patients receive a blood pressure cuff; patients can text blood pressure results to a nursing call center. High numbers can trigger an alert that the program will address. The program improved postpartum engagement with follow-up care, partly because it was more convenient for new mothers to test their own blood pressure and text the results rather than drive to a clinic and wait for an appointment.

In rural areas, where medical facilities can be few and far between, telemedicine can be a vital tool, saving patients long driving trips. Researchers are testing whether telemedicine can be used to help EDs at small, rural hospitals deliver the kind of high-quality geriatric care spelled out in the American College of Emergency Physician’s Geriatric Emergency Department Accreditation program, as reported in the February 2020 issue of ED Management.

Under the three-year research project, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH, will be providing geriatric support and expertise to four rural hospitals through a mature telemedicine program already in place. Geriatricians, case managers, social workers, physical therapists, and other specialists will be available via telemedicine hookup to the rural hospitals participating in the project. One aim of the program is to enable senior patients in rural areas to receive high-quality geriatric care in their local EDs rather than face transfer to larger hospitals that may be far away. Investigators also will be monitoring a blueprint that will allow other parts of the country to deploy geriatric expertise and support services to rural EDs in a sustainable way.

As noted in the AMA survey, it is not just telemedicine growing in popularity. Now is an exciting time to see what all kinds of digital tools can do to improve care and save lives. For instance, technology solutions are revolutionizing surgery, making it easier to communicate with patients and monitor their recovery, as reported in the January 2020 issue of Same-Day Surgery. The benefits promised by the introduction of electronic medical records is finally beginning to be realized. But beyond that, smartphone apps can track patients’ vital signs, exercise, diet, and pain levels. There also are apps that provide ready information to surgeons, making their practice more efficient.