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New Research: COVID-19 accelerates innovation in healthcare but tech adoption still lags

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a rapid acceleration of digital transformation across the entire healthcare industry. Telehealth has become a more mainstream and safe way for patients and caregivers to connect. Machine learning modeling has helped speed up innovation and drug discovery. And new levels of integration and data portability have helped enable greater vaccine availability and equitable access to those who need it.

Data has been at the crux of this digital transformation — helping people stay healthy, accelerating life sciences research and delivering more personalized and equitable care. We recently unveiled partial results from our research with The Harris Poll, which revealed that nearly all physicians (95%) believe increased data interoperability will ultimately help improve patient outcomes. Today, we’re unveiling the second part of that research. 

In February 2020, we commissioned The Harris Poll to survey 300 physicians in the U.S. about their biggest pain points — this was just before the COVID-19 pandemic strained the entire healthcare system and made us all hyper-aware of the risks we take in going to the hospital. In June 2021, we followed-up with those same questions and more. What it unveiled was just how much COVID-19 reshaped technology’s role in the healthcare field and how it’s changing day-to-day operations for physicians. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

Healthcare organizations accelerated technological upgrades over the course of the pandemic. After a year shaped primarily by the COVID-19 pandemic, use of telehealth saw substantial YOY growth, jumping nearly threefold from 32% in February 2020 to 90% this year. Forty-five percent of physicians say the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of their organization’s adoption of technology. In fact, more than 3 in 5 physicians (62%) say the pandemic has forced their healthcare organization to make technology upgrades that normally would have taken years. For example, 48% of physicians would like to have access to telehealth capabilities in the next five years. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about half of physicians (53%) say their healthcare organization’s approach to the adoption of technology would best be described as “neutral” (i.e., willing to try new technologies only if they have been in the market for awhile or others have tried and recommended them). 

Despite the technological leaps this year, most physicians still believe the industry lags behind in technology adoption but recognize the opportunity for technological support and advancement. The majority of physicians don’t view the healthcare industry as a leader when it comes to digital adoption. More than half of physicians describe the healthcare industry as lagging behind the gaming (64%), telecommunications (56%), and financial services industries (53%). However, the healthcare industry is not seen to be trailing as much as it was last year behind retail (54% in 2020; 44% in 2021); hospitality and travel (53% in 2020; 43% in 2021); and the public sector (39% in 2020; 26% in 2021). 

Better interoperability alleviates physician burnout, improves health outcomes and speeds up diagnoses. The majority of physicians say increased data interoperability will cut the time to diagnosis for patients significantly (86%) and will ultimately help improve patient outcomes (95%.) In addition to better patient experiences and outcomes, more than half of physicians (54%) believe increased access to data via technology has had a positive impact on their healthcare organization overall. A majority believe that technology can alleviate the likelihood of physician “burn-out” (57%) and that efficient tools help decrease friction and stress (84%). And, as a result, 6 in 10 physicians say access to better technology and clinical data systems would allow them to have better work/life balance (60%) and that better access to/more complete patient data would reduce administrative burdens (61%). It is therefore not surprising that nearly 9 in 10 physicians (89%) say they are increasingly looking for ways to bring together all patient data into a single place for a more complete view of health. 

Familiarity with new Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) interoperability rules grows, and many physicians are in favor. Most physicians (74%) say they have at least heard of the new DHHS rules (launched in 2019) to improve the interoperability of electronic health information. This is a clear rise from 2020 (64%), but deeper knowledge is fairly low. Only 30% of physicians say they are somewhat or very familiar with the new rules (though, again, this is a rise from 2020, when only 18% said they were very/somewhat familiar). Similar to in 2020, among those who have heard of the new rules, nearly half are in favor (48% in 2021; 45% in 2020) but a similar proportion remain unsure (46% in 2021; 50% in 2020). And like in 2020, by far the top potential benefit of the rules is thought to be forcing EHRs to be more interoperable with other systems (70%).

Google was founded on the idea that bringing more information to more people improves lives on a vast scale. In healthcare, that means creating tools and solutions that make data available in real time to help streamline operations and improve quality of care and patient outcomes. For example, our recently announced Healthcare Data Engine makes it easier for healthcare and life sciences leaders to make smart real-time decisions through clinical, operational, & groundbreaking scientific insights. To find out more about the Healthcare Data Engine, click here.

Survey methodology: The 2021 survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Google Cloud from June 9 – 29, 2021 among 303 physicians who specialize in Family Practice, General Practice, or Internal Medicine, who treat patients, and are duly licensed in the state they practice. The 2020 survey was conducted from February 18 – 25, 2020 among 300 physicians who specialize in Family Practice, General Practice, or Internal Medicine, who treat patients, and are duly licensed in the state they practice. Physicians practicing in Vermont were excluded from the research. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact [email protected]

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