Unclear if patients, providers warming up to digital health: study

A study published Friday in Nature Digital Medicine suggests that despite the need for rapid adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), telehealth and related technologies for population-level public health responses during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still unclear to what extent these solutions have been accepted by patients and providers. Further, there remain "significant challenges and gaps" in terms of scale-up and integration into healthcare systems, even in developed countries, researchers noted.

"Despite a large number of reports describing promising AI and big data applications in the pandemic, we found that minimal investigations for patient and/or provider acceptance have been reported," the authors said, even though there have been "numerous reports of these tools being widely applied for surveillance or interpretation of chest imaging scans for operational efficiencies in overloaded healthcare services."

'Gaps and opportunities'

Researchers reviewed digital health applications for population-level public health responses during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 247 articles included in the scoping review, 8.1% investigated patient and/or provider acceptance of these technologies. The technology domains that were most frequently described for responses to COVID-19 were AI, telehealth and big data, at 44.9%, 40.1% and 36%, respectively. The authors noted that while they found "a large body of evidence for various clinical and operational applications of telehealth," when it came to AI and big data, "weaknesses in study design limit generalisability and translation, highlighting the need for more pragmatic real-world investigations."

Researchers also found few descriptions of applications for the Internet of Things, digital platforms for communication, digital solutions for data management, and digital structural screening, representing "gaps and opportunities for digital public health." The authors called for "more studies investigating specific applications of digital health to develop relevant scalable public health responses are highlighted."

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