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COVID-19 sparked historic patient engagement technology adoption, but healthcare will need to lean on provider testimony to keep these gains.

If healthcare wants to keep up the gains in patient engagement technology adoption it saw at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s going to need to tap the providers that patients trust, according to a new report from Accenture.

Healthcare will also need to be transparent about how different entities use patient data and provide a seamless experience from in-person to digital care, the report found.

This comes in the context of a waning patient engagement tech margin, the report pointed out. At the beginning of March, Accenture reported that patient engagement technology adoption had tipped for the first time ever.

In 2014, the number of patients using smartphone or tablet apps to manage their own health came in at 16 percent, Accenture said in the March report. By 2018, this number swelled to 48 percent, but that’s where the growth stopped. In 2020, 35 percent of patients said they were using smartphone or tablet apps to manage their own health.

Of course, COVID-19 turned that trend around. The pandemic closed the doors of most physician offices and healthcare facilities delivering non-urgent or elective medical care, leaving a lot of patients to conduct wellness visits and chronic care check-ins remotely.

Telehealth, wearable technology, the patient portal, and remote patient monitoring technology all got a sudden boost from a pandemic that forced healthcare to reconsider what care is truly crucial for in-person treatment.

This latest Accenture report looks at what healthcare needs to do to sustain that momentum, landing on one crucial truth: clinicians need to promote these tools in their practice and give their own testimony for technology’s efficacy for care management.

Fifty-five percent of healthcare consumers have said that a trusted healthcare professional could motivate them to adopt patient engagement technologies, helping patients to take a more active role in their own health. However, only 11 percent of patients have reported that their providers have discussed patient engagement technologies with them.

What’s more, provider offices that don’t lean into consumer-facing health technologies could end up turning off a substantial population of patients.

Twenty-six percent of patients said they would leave a medical provider if another could offer high-quality digital services. These patients weren’t in the majority — 38 percent strongly disagreed with leaving a provider for one with better technology — but one-quarter is not insignificant.

And when providers do lean into digital technology, it’s important they do it right. Half of patients said they strongly agree that a poor digital healthcare experience leads to an overall poor patient experience, and another 25 percent were at least neutral about this point.

Thirty-nine percent of patients also agreed with the inverse, saying that a good digital experience can lead to an overall good patient experience.

This comes as the consumer experience becomes a defining factor in healthcare.

Providers will have to contend with more than giving their seal of approval for digital health; they also need to assure patients that their technology concerns will not come to fruition. For example, privacy and security issues with patient engagement technology.

These fears have long been present in consumer-facing technology, although they did fall by the wayside during the initial pandemic surge.

The Accenture researchers suggested that calls for social distancing and the desire to stay out of the medical office outweighed latent privacy and security issues. But those fears are still valid and will need to be addressed to maintain the health IT adoption momentum seen in recent months.

Currently, at least 80 percent of patients trust hospitals (84 percent), their clinicians (83 percent), their pharmacists (82 percent), and lab testing facilities (80 percent) to keep their health data safe, per 2020 Accenture statistics. Those numbers may be high, but they are in fact down from 2019, when 89 percent of patients trusted their hospitals to keep their data safe.

Patients are less trusting of other healthcare entities, like the government (38 percent), tech companies (45 percent), and non-medical staff members at healthcare facilities (63 percent). Notably, only 75 percent of patients trust their healthcare payers to keep their health data safe.

Although trust in this area is generally high, hospitals and provider practices should make an effort to continue to drum up patient trust that their medical data is safe. In order to achieve meaningful patient buy-in, addressing patient privacy concerns with other entities, especially the healthcare payer, will be essential.

After all, there is still patient energy around digital health use. Sixty-two percent of patients would choose virtual care options for wellness visits, and 57 percent are open to using remote patient monitoring for their chronic illnesses.

Most patients (57 percent) agree they want this from their traditional providers, but there is growing support for patients to access virtual health from some less conventional players in the space.

Twenty-seven percent of patients said they’d be open to receiving virtual health from tech companies, like Microsoft, and 25 percent from some retail companies, like Amazon or Walmart. Twenty-one percent gave the nod to medical start-ups.

Moving forward, healthcare professionals need to find a way to maintain the digital health adoption gains they made during the COVID-19 pandemic, Accenture concluded in its report. Engaging providers as champions for patient engagement technologies, being transparent about data use, and creating an in-person and digital experience that is seamless will be essential.

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