Though the growing arena of digital health comes with some concerns for healthcare officials, researchers from Penn State University have discovered an interesting trend among consumers who might consider using digital doctors.
According to their study, the researchers found that consumers are more likely to trust digital healthcare if they also trust technology more broadly, and their own ability to utilize technology.
“Doctors are limited by their human bandwidth, by their experience, knowledge, and even state of mind from minute to minute,” said researcher S. Shyam Sundar. “In contrast, machines can be programmed to ‘think’ of all the possible conditions that a patient’s symptoms could point to, and they never get tired. Some level of automation is clearly needed.”
Incorporating more technology
In this study, the researchers sought to gauge consumers’ acceptance and trust of various digital healthcare providers, including “robot receptionists” and virtual nurses and doctors.
Before exposing participants to digital healthcare services, the researchers first collected their opinions about machines completing tasks typically done by humans, as well as the participants’ reliance on machines and how comfortable they feel using technology.
The second part of the study involved having participants interact with digital healthcare in various forms.
Using various combinations of receptionists, doctors, nurses, avatars, machines, and humans, the participants were exposed to several different options of digital healthcare. They were then required to report back on how they felt about the interactions and how likely they’d be to use the service again.
The researchers found that those who had a positive outlook towards digital healthcare, and advanced forms of technology in general, were more likely to accept the various avatars and robots in medical settings.
“We found that if you’re high on machine heuristic and you’re high on power usage, you have the most positive attitude towards automated healthcare providers,” said Sundar. “This combination seems to make people more accepting of these technologies.”
Sundar and his team suggest that these findings can be useful as digital healthcare continues to evolve.
“Our results suggest that the key to implementing automation in healthcare facilities may be to design the interface so that it appeals to expert users who have a high belief in machine abilities,” said Sundar. “Designers can direct resources toward improving features such as chat functionality instead of anthropomorphizing healthcare robots. In addition, increasing the number of power users and the general belief that machines are trustworthy may increase the adoption of automated services.”
Expanding the field
The digital healthcare field has shown no signs of slowing down, as companies like Walgreens and CVS are making it easier for customers to access healthcare.
Moreover, a recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital found that digital doctor’s visits were not only more convenient for many patients, but their quality of care wasn’t compromised by skipping an office visit.
These results were particularly promising, as many doctors revealed that they think virtual appointments will become the norm in just a few short years.
"Physicians' increased willingness to see patients over video, in addition to the increasing physician shortage, high burnout rates and a more favorable reimbursement landscape, signals a boom in virtual visits over the next several years,” said Dr. Sylvia Romm.