The evolution of the digital patient, between opportunities and challenges


An interesting study by Rock Health in collaboration with Stanford University outlines the habits of American patients and their use of digital services.

The study focuses on three key themes that emerged from the data collected on a sample of 4,000 adults living in the United States:

  1. Patient-generated health data creates opportunity—and potential challenge
  2. Online health information is reshaping the relationship between patients and physician
  3. US consumers’ willingness to share their health data depends on whom they are sharing it with.

The data collected show that one in four respondents used video telemedicine over the past twelve months, 44% of respondents digitally track some aspects of their health digitally, and those who use digital tools share health tracking information with their physician or other medical professionals more frequently than those who use other tracking methods.

One in three respondents owns a wearable, and one in four wearable owners uses it to manage a diagnosis. Social networks, review sites, and online communities have opened new channels for people to share and consume health information. Forty-four percent of respondents search for physicians or nurse practitioners online, 66% of whom have selected a provider based on online reviews.


Compared to 2017, the collection of medical data using digital instruments has increased from 33% to 42%. 56% of respondents discussed their data with their doctor or other medical professionals in 2019 compared to 46% in 2017.

The study found that patients with digital instruments control their own parameters more than those using analogue instruments and share them more frequently with physicians.

The availability of online health information is reducing the information asymmetry between doctors and patients and changing the way patients choose and relate to professionals:

  • Patients use the health information found online in the relationship with the doctor. Compared to 2015, respondents in 2018 and 2019 more frequently suggested to their physician examinations and therapies based on online information (20% of respondents in 2015 compared to about 65% of respondents in 2018 and 2019).
  • Consumers don’t just read reviews from online professionals, they act accordingly. In 2019, 66% of respondents who searched for doctors online chose on the basis of online reviews.
  • Patients increasingly have the opportunity to connect, and online patient communities are an emerging channel for the dissemination of health information outside the traditional doctor-patient relationship. Eighteen percent of respondents in 2019 participated in an online patient community.


In 2018 and 2019, about half of the respondents have searched online for a doctor, a hospital and a pharmacy. 18% of respondents have participated in an online forum or patient community.

U.S. consumers are willing to share data with their physicians, but are less available to other major stakeholders, particularly insurance companies, pharmacies, research institutes, technology companies, the pharmaceutical industry and government.


However, it is interesting to note that the willingness to share their health data has been declining in the last two years, especially with doctors. Probably this phenomenon is also due to some episodes that have occurred with Facebook and health apps that share user data without patients’ consent.

The study, which contains much more useful information, can be consulted here, free of charge.

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