Healthcare apps and wearable tech have a long future in the treatment of patients, according to a panel of Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) interviewed as part of a newly launched Ipsos Healthcare study.
“Digital Doctor” is the first study of its kind looking specifically at the attitudes of PCPs to new healthcare technologies. The annual study of PCPs, across the UK, France and Germany, will track trends in this emerging field, look to understand the level of engagement in new healthcare technologies, and identify concerns or barriers to adoption.
The results show PCPs are wary of new health technologies, but 25% see a role for healthcare apps in the treatment of patients with certain conditions. As many as 72% have already used or recommended at least one form of digital health technology, and only one in five of respondents across all three countries think health and lifestyle apps are a fad.
Although most are optimistic about the role of new technologies in the treatment of patients in future, the majority of PCPs don’t know what they want from digital health technologies (72%). Of those who do have an idea about how apps could be useful, the primary function they envisage is in monitoring chronic illnesses such as diabetes, and cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.
A question of trust
While attitudes are more positive than negative on the whole, the study identifies reliability as a key barrier to entry for many PCPs. Some 15% of respondents do not think apps and wearable tech are a reliable way of monitoring health. In addition, PCPs in all three jurisdictions are more likely to distrust apps developed by Pharma companies (40%), compared to those developed by tech companies (24%). There is also some scepticism amongst PCPs as to whether apps will really make their jobs easier, with 17% of respondents saying they do not think apps will simplify access to healthcare.
Concerns around the proliferation of healthcare apps reported by PCPs include fears that patients could misinterpret the data, with 66% agreeing this is an issue. They also think constant streams of health data could fuel hypochondria among patients (61%) and that there is a risk to patients’ sensitive health-related data associated with using healthcare apps and devices (53%). Some 42% cite lack of regulation of the sector as a concern, and 46% say appointment times would increase if patients start to bring reams of data to their appointments.
The findings highlight differences between the attitudes of PCPs in the three EU countries. German PCPs are more wary of apps developed by Pharma companies, with 48% saying they don’t trust these, compared to 36% of UK PCPs (40% overall). They were also far less likely to think apps are a reliable means of monitoring health data - 29% compared to 11% of UK PCPs. French PCPs are more sceptical about the benefits of apps, with three times as many saying apps will not simplify patient care, compared to their more optimistic UK counterparts.
Opportunity for Pharma
The fact that PCPs don’t have a clear idea of what they’d like new tech to do for them suggests there is a role for Pharma companies to shape the digital health revolution, as long as their products address concerns around reliability, simplicity and security. They should also take care over branding any apps they create in partnership with developers, noting that PCPs view with suspicion anything overtly branded.
Gareth Phillips, MD of Ipsos Healthcare Western Europe said:
It’s too early to say where the ‘sweet spot’ for healthcare apps and wearable tech will be. As we see developments such as Pharma companies investing in tech start-ups to drive new innovations, Digital Doctor will allow us to monitor take-up and attitudes among PCPs in this emerging market.
These findings show PCPs definitely do see a role for apps and wearable tech, but only if they complement face-to-face treatment, rather than replace it. But the clear message is that any new apps or devices will need to integrate with existing systems, and genuinely simplify and improve current practices.