Doctors, Students Expect and Embrace Many Tech Advances: Survey

Ken Terry

January 10, 2020

Physicians, residents, and medical students all expect new technologies — such as telemedicine, artificial intelligence, and wearables — to transform healthcare and are preparing to integrate health data of various kinds into the clinical setting, according to a new national survey by Stanford Medicine.

However, the survey shows, the majority of respondents felt ill-prepared for the technological future just over the horizon.

To compile its report, The Rise of the Data-Driven Physician, Stanford Medicine polled 523 physicians, 77 medical students, and 133 medical residents.

One indication of the respondents’ engagement in new technologies was their interest in learning more about them. Forty-seven percent of the doctors and 73% of the medical students said they were seeking additional training or classes to prepare themselves for future innovations. Residents were not asked this question.

Among the medical students, 44% wanted to take classes in advanced statistics and data science. Other subjects of interest to the students were population health management (36%), genetic counseling (30%), clinical genomics (25%), coding and programming (23%), and artificial intelligence (13%).

Physicians had different priorities. They were most interested in learning about genetic counseling (38%) and artificial intelligence (34%), followed by population health management (31%), clinical genomics (27%), advanced statistics and data science (23%), and coding and programming (22%).

In terms of which innovations the respondents expected to use in practice, physicians were more closely aligned with students and residents. Electronic health records (EHRs) topped the list for both doctors (87%) and the younger cohort (84%).

Similarly, 39% of doctors and 41% of students and residents anticipated they’d use telemedicine, and 34% of physicians and 29% of students and residents expected to use genetic screening in the future. In addition, 28% and 33% of the two cohorts, respectively, believed that wearable health-monitoring devices would be used in their practices.

Although there were some differences in how students and residents, compared with physicians, viewed the new technologies, both cohorts ranked them similarly in terms of their potential to transform healthcare over the next 5 years.

The majority of respondents saw personalized medicine and telemedicine as having the most potential, followed by artificial intelligence, wearable health-monitoring devices, genetic screening for health risks, electronic health records, robotic surgery, and virtual reality.

Wearable Device Use

Forty-four percent of physicians, 50% of residents, and 47% of students said they used a wearable monitoring device themselves. Among those who used wearables, the majority said it helped inform their personal health decisions.

Eighty-three percent of physicians and 79% of students and residents said that if a patient provided them with data from a wearable device they’d regard the information as somewhat or very useful. Similarly, 80% of physicians and 78% of students and residents said they’d place some value on self-reported data from a health app. Nearly two thirds of both cohorts said the same about consumer genetic testing reports.

The Stanford report also broke down the same data based on whether respondents used these technologies themselves. Of the students and residents who used wearables, 83% said the data could be valuable in patient care; of those who didn’t use them, just 75% said that. The percentages were similar for self-reported data from a health app.

Among physicians who used wearables, 90% thought that data from such devices could be useful in patient care; only 78% who didn’t use wearables believed that. Eighty-seven percent of doctors who used health apps said self-reported data from such apps could be helpful when treating patients vs 76% of those who didn’t use health apps.

Gap Between Desire and Capability

There was a clear gap between the respondents’ support of new technologies and their perceived ability to implement them. Only 18% of medical students and residents said their education had been very helpful in preparing them to use key digital tools in practice, and 58% of them said it had been somewhat helpful. Forty-four percent of physicians said their education had not helped them understand the basics of digital innovations.

The Stanford report illustrated this contrast with a graph showing the difference between how the respondents viewed technologies’ perceived benefit to patients and how well prepared the respondents were to use these innovations.

For example, while a majority of both physicians and students and residents perceived personalized medicine could be beneficial to future patients, only 11% and 5% of these groups, respectively, were ready to use this innovation.

Interestingly, 29% of physicians said they were prepared to use telemedicine compared with just 13% of students and residents, even though the latter were more inclined to see telemedicine as beneficial to patients. Also worth noting: physicians rated the potential benefit of telemedicine higher than that of EHRs.

The survey respondents seemed well aware of recent advances in artificial intelligence that could potentially take over certain aspects of medicine. Asked to predict what portion of their work might be automated in the future, students estimated 31%, residents 26%, and physicians 25%.

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