Consumers Go Online for Healthcare

A report by Deloitte & Touche and VHA Inc. found that 17.5 million adults are using the Internet to search for health information.

The report “1999 Environmental Assessment: Rising to the Challenge of a New Century,” found that 81 percent of the consumers who go online for health information say the information they find is either useful or very useful. Many are also interested in learning more about educational services, medications, physical fitness, and alternative medicine.

The report found that people turn to the Internet for health information in part because of a lack of information available from traditional sources. More than two-thirds of patients in the US do not receive information (i.e., literature) about their condition or their child’s condition while at the doctor’s office, and only one-third receive information about their medications, the report found.

“Consumers are demanding the information to help them make informed decisions about their medical care,” said Daniel Bourque of VHA. “No longer dependent solely on their physicians’ word on diagnoses and treatments, the Internet is enabling patients to uncover the information themselves.”

Despite the popularity of obtaining health-care information on the Internet, the accuracy of the information or advice is often in question.

“Even when information does come from the Web site of a reputable source, consumers often do not have the knowledge to judge whether it applies to their own situation,” said Merlin Olson of Deloitte & Touche. “Patients therefore still need to talk to their their physician in order to best utilize the information they’ve received.

The report also found that the Internet is expected to play a more important clinical role in the coming years. According to the report, 53 percent of physicians believe that using secure Web sites to report lab results would be of great value. At the same time, the report found that IT staff have more access to the Internet than the clinical staff. The IT staff often acts as a gatekeeper, controlling access to the Internet in many clinical organizations. The report found that 45 percent of health-care organizations plan to offer Internet access to physicians and other clinical staff, but many institutions have no plans to use the Internet for clinical applications at all.

“Limited clinical access is a barrier that organizations must overcome for providers to deliver better health care and achieve cost savings,” Borque said. “Delivering quality health care will increasingly depend on the ability to process patient information and share data across the continuum.”

Only 6 percent of the health care industry uses the Internet for supply chain management applications, compared to industry-wide usage of 25 percent, the report found. But more than half of health-care respondents say they are planning an increase in Internet use in this area.

“Once again, organizations across industries are turning to the Internet for solutions,” Borque found. “Significant savings opportunities still exist in the areas of procurement, inventory, and transportation management systems.”

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