Doctors, Patients Embrace Technology in Medicine

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on September 22, 2014

Sept. 22, 2014 -- Technology is quickly changing many parts of medicine, giving people more power to take charge of their health care.

Many patients and doctors are embracing these changes, a new Medscape/WebMD survey finds.

 More on Technology in Medicine

Video: Dr. Eric Topol, MD, shares survey highlights

Special Report from Medscape: Should consumers be more involved in their healthcare?

The findings are part of the WebMD/Medscape Digital Technology Survey, which included more than 1,100 patients and 1,400 health professionals, including 827 doctors. Questions focused on issues related to the evolution of medical care -- including using smartphones to assist in the diagnostic process, clearness about what a procedure costs, the right to review medical records, radiation risks from imaging tests, and genetic testing.

Eric Topol, MD, editor-in-chief of Medscape and the chief academic officer of Scripps Health, says the report is unique. There hasn’t been a large survey that’s asked the same questions of doctors and patients.

“Technology is really democratizing all aspects of the doctor’s visit,” Topol says.

Today, people can use smartphones to track their blood sugar. And soon, apps and accessories may be available that check cholesterol or track the heart’s electrical activity.

Instead of the doctor’s office or lab being a place to begin gathering information about their health, people could soon be showing up for checkups with the info already in hand.

 In the survey:

  •  A majority of both groups -- 84% of patients and 69% of doctors -- said they embrace technology to enhance and aid the diagnostic process.
  • Both groups -- 64% of patients and 63% of doctors -- agreed that the smartphone can be a useful diagnostic tool in regard to blood tests. 

About 40% of patients liked the idea of using technology to identify health concerns without a trip to the doctor, while only 17% of doctors endorsed that method.

Areas Where Both Sides Agree

In addition to the use of new technologies, there were other parts of health care where doctors and patients agreed.

Nearly 100% of both groups said patients should have the right to know the full cost of a medical procedure before they decide whether to have it. The vast majority of patients and doctors also said patients should have access to the prices charged by different health care providers for the same medical procedure so they could comparison shop. Only about half of doctors said they were prepared to compete on the basis of cost, though.

And nearly all patients and doctors said they support the use of genetic testing to, for example, diagnose problems in a fetus, identify and treat diseases, or spot drug side effects.

Issues Where Doctors and Patients Differ

Confusion crept in when questions turned to medical records, physical exams, and radiation risks.

Nearly all patients and doctors agreed that patients have a right to review their medical records. But neither group seemed to be sure who medical records belong to. About half of consumers -- 54% -- believe they own their medical records, while 39% of doctors said physicians own the records they keep on patients.

This confusion is understandable given the legal complexities. Under the law, doctors and the practices they work for “own” the physical records, but the information contained in them is considered to be the patient’s property. Both federal and state laws give patients the right to access and inspect their medical records, usually within 30 days of a written request for them.

Topol thinks patients need to make a habit of obtaining their own copies.

“Patients should be owning their medical records,” he says. Owning them and keeping them, he adds.

A majority of patients and doctors say that annual physicals -- where doctors test you for signs of problems -- are necessary.

Topol says that’s a surprise, since recent guidelines have questioned the need to do annual physical exams. Studies show physicals, and the medical tests that go along with them, may actually set patients up for net harm, because they lead to more tests and more procedures, many of which prove to be unnecessary.

Differences also surfaced around the topic of radiation risks.

Only 19% of patients said they were very concerned about radiation exposure from imaging tests like X-rays, mammograms, and angiograms, while 38% of patients said they were not concerned. In contrast, 32% of physicians said they were very concerned about radiation risks to patients, and a minority said they were not concerned.

“Consumers are not aware of the radiation-exposure issue enough -- that’s a big surprise from the survey,” Topol says. Patients need better education about the risks of certain kinds of imaging tests, he says.

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WebMD Consumer Survey

The WebMD Digital Technology Survey was completed by 1,102 random WebMD site visitors from August 18-27, 2014. All WebMD site visitors had an equal probability of answering the survey. The sample represents the online population with a margin of error of +/- 2.99% at a 95% confidence level, using a point estimate (a statistic) of 50%.

Medscape Healthcare Professional Survey

The Medscape Digital Technology HCP Survey  was completed by 1,406 clinicians who are currently active on Medscape. The survey was fielded Aug. 22 through Sept. 8, 2014, via email invitation that included generalists and specialists. The occupations invited to respond were physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, physician assistants, and medical students. Those selected had been active on Medscape in the past 12 months. The margin of error for the entire sample is +/- 2.65% at a 95% confidence level, using a point estimate (a statistic) of 50%; for the 827 physicians who responded, the margin of error is +/- 3.40%. “Your Medical Records.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Release and Confidentiality of Patient Records.”

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