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Consumer Attitudes Towards Technology-Enabled Health Care

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions (DCHS) has conducted an online survey each year since 2008, polling a nationally represented sample of adults in the U.S. about their experiences and attitudes towards health care to better understand consumer interests, preferences, and attitudes.

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This year, Deloitte’s 2016 Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers explored preferences and concerns around technologies that can deliver non-traditional health care services, like remote monitoring, telemedicine, and robots and drones.

Even though health care technology use typically lags behind the use of technology for other purposes--like banking, shopping, or tax filing--the survey found that consumers do have an appetite for technology-based care, but have concerns about the security of their information and the quality of the care they’d receive.

Today's Landscape

Analysts are projecting that the global Internet of Things (IoT) health care market will grow by nearly 38 percent from 2015 to 2020, according to “Research and Markets”. It’s not just the advancements in available technologies that contribute to this estimation, but also demographic, economic, and societal factors.

As life expectancy increases, the Administration on Aging projects that the percentage of people 65 and older will grow from 15 to 22% of the population between the years 2014 and 2040. That means there will be a higher percentage of people in the age group who use the most health care resources. Additionally, statistics from the survey Fixing to Stay: A National Survey of Housing and Home Modification Issues, done by AARP, show that 82% of adults wish to age in their own homes rather than moving into an assisted living or care facility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is also an increasing number obese adults and of those suffering from chronic diseases. All these factors equate to an increase in health care resources used, a larger need for caregivers--Deloitte projects about 5 million additional by 2020--and a greater need for providing care to patients outside of the traditional office and hospital settings. Deloitte feels like these factors make the health care sector ripe for innovation.

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Health Care Innovation

Today’s technologies are transforming how health care is delivered, and making it possible to deliver care outside of traditional means; potentially keeping patients out of the hospital while helping to reduce costs and improve outcomes. As Deloitte explains, “sensors, mobile devices, and related technologies are presenting new opportunities in health care to better diagnose, monitor, and manage patients and treatment.”

Some current innovations include disease monitoring--like diabetes or asthma--and medication adherence; replacing the traditional seven-day plastic pill box with a device connected to a smartphone app. In one case, a company called Endotronix is developing a wireless monitoring solution for those with congestive heart failure. A sensor implanted during a routine procedure measures cardiac function and securely sends the data to the patient’s care team.

Remote patient monitoring is one of the most promising IoT technologies for health care providers looking to cut costs, and it is also one of the most easily understood for consumers. Using digital technologies, data about an individual's health is collected in one location and transmitted securely to a different location. It can be collected either passively--via constant monitoring that requires no patient involvement--or actively, with the patients collecting, and sometimes transmitting, the data themselves.

Some of the types of monitors that technology companies have developed are blood sampling sensors; external sensors that connect to the body like a blood-pressure cuff; tissue-embedded sensors like a pace-maker or cardio defibrillator; and wearables that can be embedded in clothing or worn as a bracelet.

Telemedicine is an innovation allowing patients to access care outside of a hospital or physician's office via devices like a web browser, smartphone, or tablet. It can help reduce treatment costs as office visits are reduced, and Deloitte believes it has the potential to improve remote monitoring and self-care.

One hypothetical technology researchers are hopeful will be a reality in the next few decades is using drones and robots to assist elderly individuals around the house, but currently they are more useful for medical product transporting and monitoring.

Survey Findings

As part of the 2016 Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers, Deloitte polled consumers about technology-enabled home care in 15 scenarios covering telemedicine, remote patient monitoring/sensors, and drones/robotics, covering things like cost and concerns. (The specifics of the scenario are covered in the Appendix of this article.)

Deloitte found that seven out of ten consumers surveyed are likely to use at least one of the technologies presented, with telemedicine being the most popular, especially for post-surgical care and chronic disease monitoring. The survey also indicated that consumers with chronic conditions are the most interested in technology-enabled care.

Caregivers are more likely to use telemedicine and remote monitoring technologies, as consumers reported that they are more likely to use sensor technology when caring for others than on themselves. Deloitte suggests that technology companies make caregivers a target for adoption given these findings.

Forty percent of consumers surveyed were interested in using drones for tasks like medical assistance or for assisting a doctor with a diagnosis, but consumers were less interested in using robotics to diagnose or monitor others without doctor assistance.

Of the concerns expressed, one-third of consumers were worried about privacy, including the security of their information or that it may be misused. Four out of ten respondents worried that the quality of care would be lower than receiving care in person.

Through focus groups, Deloitte found that many consumers value the doctor-patient relationship and worried that it would deteriorate with an increased reliance on technology. However, consumers became more open to trying these health care technologies once a group member who had used them shared a personal story.

Implications

Research has shown that, despite their reservations, consumers are interested in using health care technologies. In order to address these concerns and earn patients’ trust, those creating or implementing technologies should prioritize the safe keeping of patient information, and help ensure they will receive high-quality care.

Caregivers have indicated in Deloitte focus groups that they are willing to employ these technologies, and desire tools for coordinating tasks and managing medications. Meanwhile, consumers have shown that they have a preference for telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. The decision makers should listen to their target audiences and get to know who they are and what they desire, aligning their plans to meet them.

Today’s IoT technologies have the power to benefit the individual consumer and caregiver while also contributing to the overall efficiency of the health care system. Along with educating all parties involved about the implications and benefits, Deloitte believes the task at hand is for “manufacturers and care providers to develop products and services that meet consumer expectations while taking advantage of IoT technology’s benefits.”

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