Doctors Waiting for Clinical Uses of Internet

More than 50 percent of physicians use the Internet daily, but only 20 percent feel it is essential to their professional practice, according to a survey by Cyber Dialogue and Deloitte Research.

The study, “Taking the Pulse: Physicians and the Internet,” examines how the Internet has influenced interaction between doctors and patients. It is based on interviews with more than 1,200 practicing physicians in the US.

“Although healthcare is said to be one of the last pre-digital industries, this study shows that the barriers to the electronic age are not user fear or ignorance,” said Manuel Lowenhaupt MD, Principal, Deloitte Consulting Health Care Practice. “Physicians embrace the Internet when it improves their ability to do their work, to improve their productivity. The challenge is for the Internet industry to demonstrate value to the front-line care provider.”

The study found that 90 percent of physicians have accessed the Web in the past year and 55 percent are daily users. In addition, about 24 percent of physicians are “professional users,” who are defined as spending at least three-quarters of their online time for professional purposes. However, most physicians are still not actively using the Internet for clinical or administrative purposes, nor are they using online medical records or communicating with patients online.

“There has yet to be a compelling value proposition that would lead physicians to integrate the Internet into their clinical workflow,” said Mark Bard, a director in Cyber Dialogue’s Health Practice. “The majority of physicians, though, are very excited about the future of the Web to improve communication among patients, payors and providers, and most of them anticipate that they will rely on the Web much more in five years.”

According to Ruth Given, Deloitte Research, Director for Health Care, there are key economic deterrents that stop physicians from using the Internet. These include the immediate out-of-pocket expenses for Internet connectivity, the related time costs of learning and using new systems, as well as the financial risk of investing in a wrong or outdated technology.

For activities related to “connectivity” and administrative services, the survey found that 21 percent of the physicians email their patients and 4 percent use online prescribing. This signals a significant opportunity for companies focused on automating existing processes and injecting efficiency into labor-intensive activities. The study also found that concerns related to privacy and security are keeping many physicians from fully embracing the Internet.

“Despite the belief that physicians are techno-phobes, their personal use of the Internet has already reached critical mass,” said Thaddeus Grimes-Gruczka, VP of Cyber Dialogue’s Health Practice. “Vital factors essential for making the jump from personal usage to clinical use include integrating technology into workflow at the point of care, addressing privacy and security concerns, and demonstrating how online technologies will help physicians practice medicine more efficiently and effectively.”

The survey was conducted via in-depth telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,200 practicing physicians in the US during June and July 2000. The sample was drawn from the American Medical Information (AMI) physician database. Quotas were established to include samples of primary care physicians as well as representative groups from eleven identified specialist groups. The final data set was weighted to reflect national norms to account for minor sample variance with respect to age and gender.

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