Hospital Staffs Increase Internet Use

Use of the Internet by clinical and support staff in US hospitals has increased dramatically in the past year, according to a study by VHA Inc., a nationwide alliance of community-owned health-care organizations.

Online access has more than doubled in the past year among the 16 hospital employee groups included in the survey, VHA found. The greatest increase was among staff physicians, where Internet access jumped from 28 percent to 82 percent in the last 12 months. The majority of hospital staff members and physicians, 80 percent or more in most cases, are now connected to the Internet, according to the survey.

The nationwide survey was conducted among 306 hospital executives from 244 VHA member organizations. Participants included chief information officers, chief nursing officers, chief medical officers, chief financial officers, chief operating officers.

A total of 72 percent of those surveyed feel it’s very or somewhat important that future IT applications be Web based, an increase of 24 percent overt last year. Only 9 percent now see online capabilities as unimportant, compared to 21 percent in 1998.

“The responses show a logical correlation between increasing access and the growing use of online products and applications,” said Kevin Hutchinson, VHA’s VP of member strategies. “While there continues to be a focus on security and budgets, the results show that health systems want to use the Internet to maintain and transmit operational and clinical information. Health-care organizations are going to be ready to purchase the clinical information products that can demonstrate improved quality and effectiveness.”

Of organizations with public Web sites (80 percent of the total) there is an almost equal division between those hosting their own Web site (52 percent) versus outsourcing (48 percent). Of those without a Web site, more than half plan to develop one within the next year, and 60 percent of those plan to outsource.

Top operational priorities for hospital chief information officers are introducing electronic medical records capability, connecting physicians to hospital IT systems, and integrating new and existing applications. Hospital systems plan to purchase a wide range of IT products during the next three years, with no single type of application being dominant, the study found. Inpatient point-of-care systems, enterprise master patient indexes and enterprise scheduling systems are the most likely purchases during the next 12 months. The most common clinical IT applications installed or already purchased are for laboratory information (91 percent); pharmacy information (87 percent); and radiology information (77 percent).

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