Physicians’ Internet Use Excludes Clinical Applications

Most physicians now go online on a daily basis, and two out of every five doctors work in practices that have Web sites, according to a study by Harris Interactive. But privacy concerns have kept physicians from exploring many clinical uses of the Internet.

The study, “Computing in the Physicians’ Practice,” is based on a survey of 834 physicians conducted between Jan. 3 and Feb. 7, 2001. It found that the proportions of practicing physicians who are online from home, from their personal office areas and their clinical work areas are all increasing. Physicians’ staff is also using the Internet more often for both clinical and administrative work.

More than half (55 percent) of all practicing physicians use email to communicate with professional colleagues, and 34 percent use email to communicate with their support staff. However, only 13 percent of all doctors communicate with any of their patients via email.

Few physicians are sending clinical information about individual patients via email. However, this would rapidly increase if medical records’ privacy were guaranteed. Only 6 percent of physicians regularly use email to send clinical information about individual patients (such as consultations with colleagues or patients, or ordering prescriptions) and are not inhibited about concerns about privacy and security. Eight percent use email to send clinical information but “would do so even more if security and privacy were fully guaranteed.”

Only 14 percent of doctors are using email to send any patient-specific clinical information. Many more (39 percent) do not do so now, but say they would do so “if the security and privacy of emails were guaranteed.” However, even if security and privacy were non-issues, 40 percent of physicians say they would not send clinical information by email.

When compared to the Harris Interactive study done in December 1999, Internet, Web site, and email usage among doctors and their staffs have all increased significantly, but not dramatically.

  • The proportion of all practicing physicians using the Internet has grown in the clinical work area from 34 percent in December 1999 to 40 in 2000); in their personal offices (from 51 percent to 56 percent) and at home (from 83 percent to 87 percent).
  • Only 7 percent of physicians are not online anywhere, compared to 11 percent in 1999.
  • 42 percent of all physicians work in practices with Web sites, up from 29 percent in 1999.
  • More doctors are communicating by email with both professional colleagues, up from 51 percent in 1999 to 55 percent in 2000, and support staff (up from 25 percent to 34 percent).
  • Only 36 percent of physicians are not using email to communicate with staff, colleagues, patients or third party payers, compared to 42 percent in 1999.

Physicians Use of the Internet
1999 2000
Physicians Currently Online
From anywhere 89% 93%
At home 83% 87%
In personal office area 51% 56%
In clinical work area 34% 40%
Physicians’ Staff Currently Online
Other clinical staff in physicians’
clinical work area
38% 46%
Administrative staff in office 50% 62%
Physicians Who Use Internet Daily
As percentage of those online N/A 64%
As percentage of all physicians N/A 59%
Physicians in Practices with Web Sites
As percentage of those online 32% 45%
As percentage of all physicians 29% 42%
Physicians Who Use E-Mail to Communicate
to communicate with:
Support staff 25% 34%
Health plans, IPAs, other payers 8% 9%
Professional colleagues 51% 55%
None of the above 42% 36%
Source: Harris Interactive

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