New study into liver disease shows doctors recognise the potential of digital health interventions

Two thirds of healthcare professionals involved in a new research project believe that digital health interventions can help patient care management, but over half had never recommended them to patients.  

That’s the finding of a new study of Spanish physicians by Spanish academics in partnership with public health researchers at ORCHA (Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps). The team used non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) as a test case for examining this issue. 

NAFLD was chosen because of its growing prevalence in Spain and because it often remains undiagnosed. It’s a condition which can be avoided by simple lifestyle changes such as better diet and exercise – and there’s growing evidence that these changes can be supported by digital health interventions. 

The presence of some fat in the liver is normal but having too much can prevent normal liver function. In the most advanced stages, liver function can break down and a transplant may be needed.   

The study was carried out in early 2022 amongst almost 300 gastroenterologists and hepatologists.  Most of the physicians recognised the potential of digital health interventions: 60% felt these tools would help with improve the efficiency of care delivery and 52% felt they would improve patient engagement and self-management of their health. 

Only 25% of these physicians had received training in how to use digital health interventions although 94% of them thought it would be useful to receive training.  

In addition to training, two key factors influencing whether these tools would be used were time and evidence. Fifty-nine per cent of the physicians said they would recommend these tools if there was time within the consult and 51% said they would need evidence that the tool would work well before recommending it.  

Dr Simon Leigh, head of research at ORCHA, said:

“There’s a shift in how care is being provided but it’s not occurring uniformly and that’s why it’s so important for us to examine distinct areas of care in such detail. Lessons learned in one area can be shared more broadly. 

“We were very pleased with the positive feedback from the physicians, but they raised practical considerations regarding training, time within consultations, and trust in these products. All of these are areas we can work on. For example, in the UK all frontline healthcare workers now have access to free and professionally accredited digital health training via the ORCHA Digital Health Academy.” 

High quality digital health interventions can support patients with their liver health by encouraging better lifestyle choices. Apps can log exercise, help with smoking cessation, assist with healthier food choices, and encourage lower alcohol intake.  

The full results of the study are available at the Liver Meeting 2022, in Washington DC until 8 November.