Electronic and Internet health tools may decrease in-person physician visits

November 4, 2013

Will the growing use of health information technology (IT) and electronic-health (e-health) applications impact the future demand for physicians? Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Commonwealth Fund think so. Based on their analysis of recent trends in digital health care and a review of the scientific literature, the authors conclude that patients' future use of physician services will change dramatically as electronic health records and consumer e-health "apps" proliferate. The findings appear in the November issue of the journal Health Affairs.

"The results of our study are important because they provide a forward looking snapshot of how health IT will profoundly impact the American health care workforce over the next decade or two," said the study's lead author Jonathan Weiner, DrPH, professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School and director of the Center for Population Health Information Technology (CPHIT).

Today, in large part due to federal "meaningful use" subsidies, over 70 percent of office-based physicians are making use of records. Only a decade ago, the figure was about 10 percent. Also, consumers are increasingly using the Internet and mobile phones to manage their health. In the not-too-distant future, it is likely that the majority of patients' interactions with the health care system will be digitally mediated.

The impact of health IT on the care delivery environment will be far-reaching. Weiner and colleagues estimate that when and other e-health systems are fully implemented in just 30 percent of community-based physicians' offices, U.S. doctors will be able to meet the demands of about 4-9 percent more patients than they can today due to increased efficiency. When supported by health IT, delegation of care to nurse practitioners and physician assistants could reduce the future U.S. demand for physicians by an additional 4-7 percent. Along the same lines, IT, such as "e-referral" systems, could help reduce the national demand for specialists by another 2-5 percent as specialist physicians are able to delegate care to generalists. Health-IT, such as telemedicine and secure patient/doctor digital communication, could help address regional doctor shortages by enabling 12 percent of care to be delivered remotely by doctors living in other locations. The forecasts could be much higher, if doctors and patients adopted comprehensive e-health and IT more widely. "When all of these likely effects are added together, it is clear that health IT will help resolve future physician shortages that many believe are around the corner," said Professor Weiner.

Although there is considerable room for further empirical research on health IT's impact on health care workforce market dynamics, the authors conclude that few trends will change the future face of American as widely as health IT and e-health. "It is essential that workforce planning analyses provide policymakers and stakeholders with evidence and ideas that support rational decision making and preparation for a future that is likely to be dramatically different from the past," said study co-author Dr. David Blumenthal MD, MPP, president of The Commonwealth Fund and the former National Coordinator for Health IT for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The authors reviewed health informatics and health services research literature through June 2013 using MEDLINE, the Cochrane Database and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's database on IT.

Explore further: Expanding scope of nurse practitioners practice discussed

More information: "Predicting the Impact of Health Information Technology and e-Health On the Future Demand for Physician Services," appears in both the November online and print issue of Health Affairs.

Related Stories

Expanding scope of nurse practitioners practice discussed

October 3, 2013
(HealthDay)—Non-physician practitioners could ease the anticipated increased demand for physicians, but broadening their scope of practice is controversial, according to an article published Sept. 10 in Medical Economics.

Doctors pessimistic about future of US health care

August 15, 2013
(HealthDay)—Physicians report concerns regarding health care delivery and the future of health care, according to survey findings published by athenahealth.

Community health centers integrate mental and medical services to address care gap

November 4, 2013
In recent years, there has been growing recognition that mental health status impacts physical health and vice versa. As a result, there is growing interest in the coordination of medical and behavioral health services as ...

Patient portal market earned 279.8 million in 2012

October 4, 2013
(HealthDay)—The total U.S. patient portal market for hospitals and physicians earned $279.8 million in 2012, and this is expected to increase in the coming years, mainly due to stage 2 meaningful use requirements, according ...

Mid-level health workers as effective as physicians

October 31, 2013
Countries facing severe shortages and poor distribution of health workers could benefit from training and deploying more mid-level health workers, such as midwives, nurses, medical assistants and surgical clinicians, according ...

New report finds no evidence that safety-net patients receive substandard primary care

September 9, 2013
A new study by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) finds no evidence that primary care physicians provide "second-class" care to Medicaid, uninsured and other ...

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.