Physicians’ Net Usage Up

A mouse hanging ’round a doctor’s neck instead of a stethoscope might not be so far-fetched as a survey conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA) finds that almost half of the responding physicians indicated that the Web has had a major impact on the way they practice medicine.

The study, based on interviews with 977 physicians in the U.S. from August to December 2001, revealed that more than three-quarters (78 percent) of physicians surf the Web.

Furthermore, two-thirds of online physicians access the Web daily — an increase of 24 percent since 1997 — and the average number of hours a physician uses the Web per week jumped from 4.3 in 1997 to 7.1 in 2001. Respondents predicted that their Web usage would increase to an average of 9.6 hours per week during the next 6 months.

Although there is still a trend for younger physicians to use the Web more than older physicians, the percentage of physicians aged 60 or older using the Internet increased from 43 percent in 2000 to 65 percent in 2001.

Approximately 3 of 10 physicians using the Internet currently have a Web site, a proportion that has remained constant since 1999. The primary reasons physicians have a site on the Web is to promote and advertise their practice or provide patient education and information. In 2001, the percentage of physicians using the Web to advertise and promote their practice grew by 11 percent from the previous year.

The higher numbers of Web-surfing doctors is encouraging for the millions of patients that would like to communicate online with their physician. A recent Harris Interactive survey in the U.S. has shown that large numbers of people would be likely to fix appointments, refill prescriptions or ask simple questions of the doctors online and that many people would pay to be able to do this.

With 110 million American Internet users expressing an interest in online health care information, doctors could not overlook the influence of the Web, nor could they stay current on breaking medical news or immediately available online information. The AMA is compounding the importance of Web usage by offering free online courses, such as a program designed to educate practicing physicians and front-line medical professionals about responding to terrorist attacks.

AMA President Richard F. Corlin, MD comments, “Now more than ever, our nation’s physicians and medical personnel must have immediate access to the latest information on bioterrorism and other threats to our security,” said AMA President Richard F. Corlin, MD. “This continuing medical education (CME) program provides information in a format that can be viewed anytime and anywhere, while allowing physicians to earn credit when they participate.”

Further evidence of the growing usage of the Internet by doctors is research from Harris Interactive and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Based on data from a nationwide survey of 400 practicing physicians, the findings indicate that almost all (356) were using the Internet.

The study reveals that doctors are using the Internet in force for gathering medical knowledge and that they are beginning to embrace online tools that enhance patient care, such as electronic prescribing, online communication with patients, and electronic medical records.

The growth in technological capability among doctors is not limited to the Internet. Harris Interactive also cites an increase in physicians’ use of handheld devices — from 15 percent in 1999 to 26 percent in 2001, with those using the devices as an integral part of their everyday practice rising from 10 percent in 1999 to 18 percent in 2001. Use of handheld personal devices is higher among doctors under 45 (33 percent) than among older doctors (21 percent).

Medical Specialists who Use the Web
  2000 2001
Obstetrics/Gynecology 32% 44%
Surgery 43% 42%
Pediatrics 36% 39%
Family Practice 29% 36%
Internal Medicine 20% 30%
Anesthesiology 10% 17%
Radiology 16% 13%
Psychiatry 9% 12%
Other 23% 23%
Source: American Medical Association (AMA)

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