Digital Healthcare: What Do Patients Think? Part 3

Awareness and Access to Digital Tools

European asthma and COPD patients have a strong interest in digital health technologies and are highly satisfied with them. These are some of the main results of EFA’s recently published DIG_IT report. But the report also revealed some deterrents, and in this post we will focus on them.

Firstly, awareness of key digital respiratory devices is still low. In fact, EFA says that it is perhaps the biggest obstacle in the way of more widespread use — along with access. More than half of patients had not been offered digital health services, the study reveals. Of the five countries included in the study, Spain is the only one where services other than social media and online prescriptions are used on a larger scale. 

Some patients voiced a fear that technologies would end up replacing physical contact with healthcare providers. In reality, telehealth can support — rather than substitute — in-person care, and facilitate communication overall.

Lack of Reimbursement

One obstacle to a wider application of digital healthcare is lack of reimbursement. Based on the study, digital healthcare is still largely covered by patients themselves. For example, 39% of digital respiratory device users paid for some of it, and 16% paid for them entirely. In tools to monitor air quality, 23% paid for them partially, and 30% entirely. Reimbursement policies for digital healthcare, even if complicated, are continually improving to meet the needs of patients and healthcare professionals. 

Patients Open to Data Sharing When They See Its Usefulness

According to the DIG_IT report, the question of data privacy and security is a central concern for patients. Patients expressed varied degrees of scepticism depending on the digital service in question. However, patients are more open to data sharing when they see evidence of its usefulness. The majority of patients are willing to share health data to improve their condition, receive early warning of deterioration, or stabilise their condition (67–71%). They are also inclined to share data if it helps others by improving the understanding and treatment of their condition.

The majority of patients are willing to share data to improve their condition, receive early warning of deterioration, or stabilise their condition.

The great majority of patients were willing to share personal health data with healthcare professionals (87–90%). According to EFA, the findings demonstrate that chronic respiratory disease patients can be frontrunners in the use of digital services and technologies.

Improving health literacy is central. Patients with more experience of digital technologies had a more open attitude towards sharing their health data. Health literacy allows patients to make more informed decisions about data sharing. In our service, for example, users own their information and can choose whether they want to share it with a healthcare professional.

Healthcare Professionals Play a Key Role 

How could the wider patient community become more familiar with the advantages of health technologies? EFA sees that healthcare professionals have a crucial role in introducing digital tools to patients. More than half of respondents would prefer digital tools training from healthcare staff over family or a partner. The staff can offer specific technologies, show how they work, and provide support along the way. This support is also pivotal in patients’ commitment to the self-management of their illnesses. 

At the same time, the majority of healthcare professionals say that they have not received sufficient training in digital skills. A crucial step forward, then, is to provide healthcare staff with adequate training. 

Beyond the challenges of reimbursement, awareness and access, EFA concludes that digital health technologies have great potential to benefit patients. In our final blog post, we will examine more closely how our own solution responds to patients’ needs and preferences. Stay tuned!

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