From medical institutions to tech corporations to health startups to investors – everyone in the health field has turned their focus toward digital health during the pandemic. While the number of virtual visits to the doctor’s office is decreasing after the lockdowns ended, the field is still going strong, which is confirmed by the fact that the investments in the industry nearly doubled in 2020.
With all this excitement around the industry, what are the consumer attitudes toward digital health? A new survey of 1,004 American adults carried out in 2022 by digital health company Kilo Health shows several new trends that might shine a new light on health-related consumer behavior online.
Americans try health advice they find online
According to the Kilo Health survey, 93% of Americans searched for health information online at least once, and a whopping 82% have tried health advice they found online. 74% researched 1–5 different topics, while 19% looked for more than 5 topics. In most cases, people were researching around 3 topics.
This shows a steep growth from 2009, when, according to the CDC, 61% of people sought health information online. In 2014, Pew Research Center reported that the number of adult internet users researching health information online was 72%.
As Kasparas Aleknavicius, MD, Head of Medical Affairs at Kilo Health, explains, this growth, while natural due to the higher adoption of technology in general, poses a risk.
“False information is more likely to be shared on social media sites than accurate news,” explains Aleknavicius. “If people are trying out health advice they find online at such a high rate, they could be putting their health in danger.”
A systematic review of 69 studies that analyze the key health misinformation topics and their prevalence shows that misinformation is a huge issue – in some studies, 87% of posts reviewed included false claims.
Also, the findings from an MIT research study show that false news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted. Research from the American Psychological Association scholars confirms that misinformation tends to spread, too – a person who is susceptible to one type of misinformation (i.e., about vaccines or cancer) is more likely to trust false information about other topics, too.
Naturally, this begs the question – what kind of advice and information do people access, and how does it impact their health?
However, there is a silver lining here, too – people are using search engines to get more educated about their symptoms. According to the survey, 65% of people are likely to research their symptoms online before they contact a doctor when they feel unwell.
“Some patients come to my office with a little background on the issues they have researched themselves,” explains Aleknavicius. “Usually, they can be more easily educated about their symptoms, the interdependencies, how they occur, and how they compound into syndromes and diseases.”
However, this still might mean that people might not visit the doctor after they “self-diagnose” online or get stressed after checking unreliable information sources and coming to conclusions about their condition’s seriousness.
Around half don’t use all of the digital tools available
The Kilo Health survey also highlights that even though the digital health industry grows, the understanding of all the available options for patients lags behind.
The researchers asked respondents to define how they interpreted the phrase "digital health." 56% of individuals link "digital health" with accessing their physicians via digital technologies, including the 7% who said it meant telemedicine or telehealth.
However, only 8% think the term defines health apps, 6% see it as websites or web searches, and 14% of people couldn’t find a way to describe this term at all.
“It’s clear that patients are quite familiar with the telemedicine element of digital health. It’s a convenient way to get medical advice straight from the source. However, many people avoid using it because they don’t have insurance,” says Aleknavicius.
The survey shows that 80% of people have tried at least one digital interaction with their doctor. Phone calls are the most popular (57%), video calls take second place (42%), followed by text messages (25%).
Aleknavicius thinks that digital health is a broader term that includes such preventative care tools as wearables or apps. Still, patients are not using the full range of tools available to them online.
Out of all the people surveyed by Kilo Health, 51% say they haven’t tried wearable devices, 30% are currently using a device to track their health, 43% have never used any digital health apps, and 35% use at least one at the moment.
“There are several sides to preventative digital health a person can do, including using apps or wearable devices. If people don’t use other digital health tools apart from web search, they are missing out and might even put their health in danger,” explains Aleknavicius.
Accenture survey confirms that digital health tool usage has fluctuated over the past few years. Although it was rather prevalent in 2018, with more than 33% of individuals using wearable technology, by 2020, the figure had dropped to 18%. According to the same report, the usage of digital health has decreased from 48% in 2018 to 35% in 2020.
1 in 3 people distrust mobile solutions
People surveyed by Kilo Health have also shared that even when they tried digital health tools, they decided to stop at some point. 21% used mobile health apps but decided not to continue, and 19% tried out but stopped using wearables.
Aleknavicius explains several key reasons why this might be the case – the key ones being skepticism about the effectiveness or ease of use. 39% of people don’t think the digital health apps will work for them, while 29% don’t understand how these apps work.
In addition, the Kilo Health data shows that today, 28% don’t use digital health apps because they don’t trust the apps with their health data. That’s a 12.6% increase over the past 17 years because, in 2005, only 15.4% of people said they didn’t use digital health apps because they didn’t trust apps collecting their data.
“All of these insights show that every stakeholder in digital health has a lot of work to do. We must make traditional telemedicine more accessible, digital apps more convenient, and misinformation online gone,” summarizes Aleknavicius.
About Kilo Health
Kilo Health is one of the leading digital health and wellness companies with 4+ million customers worldwide. As of 2022, it’s the second fastest-growing company in Europe on the Financial Times TOP 1,000 ranking, the second-fastest growing company in Central Europe on the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 list, and the most popular employer of 2021 on MeetFrank. Kilo Health has over 15 innovative digital health products, 600+ employees, and offices across 5 European cities. The company is also a member of the DTx Alliance, Matter Community, and HealthXL.
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