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Doctors throughout Europe already work in an environment full of advanced technology, including highly sophisticated diagnostic and surgical equipment and other state-of-the-art devices. These days, though, they also need to deal with the gadgets in the hands of consumers—their patients. And doctors have mixed feelings about the explosion of mobile apps, wearables and other digital tools aimed at boosting consumers’ awareness and control of their own health.
That’s not to say that medics don’t see essential value in a lot of the new tools on offer. According to the “Digital Doctor Report 2015” from Ipsos Healthcare, 72% of doctors polled in France, Germany and the UK had either used or recommended an app, online health forum or wearable technology in the previous year.
While four in every five doctors felt technology was increasingly important and would play a permanent role in healthcare, many were unsure what that role would be. For example, most doctors sampled by Ipsos were wary of overstating the benefits of mobile health apps. Some 13% said that mobile technology would eventually replace routine checkups for stable patients with chronic problems—but 26% disagreed. One in 10 said that disease/compliance monitoring apps used alongside drugs would become a prerequisite for patients being reimbursed by insurance companies for their health expenses—but 37% said this wouldn’t happen. Asked whether apps were key to improving patients’ adherence to health regimes, 15% of doctors said they agreed—but 21% said apps were not key.
Moreover, significant numbers of doctors had doubts about the usefulness of some digital health solutions, at least in their current form. Mobile technology such as apps and wearables were a particular focus of concern—though the level of worry varied from one country to another. In the UK, for example, the overwhelming majority of the sample agreed that “mobile technology is a reliable means of monitoring health data”; just 11% disagreed. But in France, 24% disagreed, and in Germany, the proportion was 29%.
Similarly, most doctors did think mobile technology would help simplify access to healthcare. But more than one in 10 in the UK and Germany did not agree. In France, a notable 33% of doctors did not subscribe to this view.
Many doctors in the Ipsos study were also thinking ahead to potential conflicts arising from consumer use of apps and other digital tools. After all, most healthcare professionals in advanced economies have already seen large numbers of patients self-diagnosing with the aid of Google search or the websites of medical organizations—and arguing with their doctors as a result.
While doctors polled by Ipsos generally acknowledged that technology could help with therapy and monitoring chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart ailments, 27% feared that mobile apps would create more conflict with patients.
Again, the top worries varied by country. Nearly two-thirds of doctors in the UK were concerned that patients could misinterpret data from digital health tools. In Germany, about six in 10 respondents felt these tools could fuel hypochondria, and in France, more than half of doctors were unhappy about the lack of security and privacy involved in using them.
Because the application of digital technology to day-to-day consumer healthcare is pretty new, most doctors (73%) couldn’t say exactly what they wanted it to do. But among those that did have a clear view on this, monitoring was the top function they identified.
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