Research Article: eHealth and telemedicine: Practices and beliefs among healthcare professionals and medical students at a medical university

Date Published: February 28, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Anna Wernhart, Susanne Gahbauer, Daniela Haluza, Otto Helve.

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213067

Abstract

Digitalization affects almost every aspect of modern daily life including healthcare delivery. Successful adoption and sustainable integration of information technology-based eHealth and telemedicine concepts in clinical practice depend on constant evaluation of end user needs, proficiencies, and preferences. We therefore assessed how current and future healthcare professionals perceived health technology solutions and whether their perceptions differed. We conducted an online survey among a purposive sample of employees and students at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria. The structured questionnaire collected self-reported practices and beliefs in the context of eHealth and telemedicine among 905 participants (59.0% females), of which 48.4% were employees and 51.6% were students. Participants expressed moderate knowledge of eHealth and telemedicine concepts with higher levels among employees compared to students (both: p<0.05). Compared to employees, students were less convinced that online health information improves patient knowledge (p<0.001), but were more optimistic that telemedicine reduces healthcare costs (p<0.05). Participants doubted that telemedicine services would enhance the doctor-patient relationship and raised concerns regarding data security and privacy issues. Accordingly, quantitative context analysis of free text comments revealed that the four most frequently mentioned themes were related to issues concerning data privacy and security, questions of responsibility, doctor-patient interaction, and reliability of information. This study provides valuable insights into how current and future healthcare professionals differ in their perceptions regarding eHealth and telemedicine. These findings raise awareness of the need to bridge the gap between digital age groups and professional groups, especially in clinical healthcare delivery in a clocked-through, strenuous academic setting as found at a medical university.

Partial Text

The current digital revolution pushes healthcare delivery into a new age [1]. Associated structural and ideological changes as well as patient empowerment currently transform traditional, hierarchical face-to-face healthcare [2]. The term eHealth, electronic health, serves as a generic umbrella term for the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in health-related services and processes [3,4]. eHealth has become crucial for modern healthcare systems worldwide and covers a wide variety of applications, including electronic health records, electronic medication overview, and telemedicine-related services [5,6,7]. Basically, the term telemedicine refers to the ICT-supported provision or support of health services while patients and healthcare providers are not present at the same place. In this context, ensuring secure transmission of text, sound and image-based medical data, which are per se perceived as sensitive content, are a prerequisite for medical prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up [4].

Overall, out of the 17,596 individuals contacted via the invitation mail for study participation, 905 participated in the survey (response rate: 5.1%). Of 7,407 employees entitled to the survey, 438 participated in the online survey (employee response rate: 6.0%), whereas of 10,189 students enrolled to the Medical University of Vienna, 467 participated (student response rate: 4.6%). Average age of study participants was 34.1 years (SD 12.3) and 39.7% were males. The employee sample was not only older (mean 42.6, SD 10.4 vs. mean 26.1, SD 7.7 years), but also consisted of less males than the student sample (34.7% vs. 44.3% all: p<0.001). Employees were statistically significantly more likely to live in Vienna (overall 70.3%, 77.6% vs. 63.4%) and obtain a university degree (overall 47.3%, 67.6% vs. 28.3%, all: p<0.001). Health technologies are becoming increasingly important in the healthcare sector. eHealth and telemedicine services have the potential to improve the quality of medical care, reduce inpatient hospital stays, and reduce treatment costs [30]. In order to maximize adoption of these services, user-oriented development of advanced systems integrating knowledge on health personnel’s views as prospective consumers is necessary. One of the aims of the present study was thus to analyze whether personal experience in clinical healthcare as measured by professional status (employee and student) influences approval of eHealth and telemedicine services. We also collected comments on perceived benefits and barriers of these services in a free text item at the end of the survey questionnaire to broaden the scope of answers and provide rich data to enhance numerical result interpretation [31]. Digitization in everyday medical practice has gained in importance in a short time. Although the respondents of this study were employees and students of the Medical University of Vienna and therefore closer to the medical daily routine than the average population, a large part of the respondents did not feel sufficiently informed. Our findings suggest a lack of familiarity with the concept of eHealth and telemedicine. Since the students reported more experience with eHealth and telemedicine tools than the employees, the results picture the influence of digital age on eHealth and telemedicine adoption. For the successful implementation of public strategies, acceptance of eHealth and telemedicine services by consumers is crucial. The acceptance of doctors, who have an important role as opinion leaders in the population as well as the possibility to assist in designing useful new products, is essential to fully exhaust the possibilities of novel health technologies in every-day patient care.   Source: http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213067

 

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