Internet's influence continues to grow

July 1, 2003

Pharmaceutical Representative

Internet healthcare is growing more pervasive among physicians and patients alike.

Internet healthcare is growing more pervasive among physicians and patients alike, according to a survey of 400 physicians and 10,000 patients published by the Boston Consulting Group. The survey, which was conducted in 2002, found that physicians are continuing to move online and report that the information they find in the virtual realm influences their real-world medical decisions in significant ways. In addition, more physicians are adopting online tools to deliver patient care.

The online doctor

Previous surveys have shown that physicians spend about three hours a week online for professional reasons. This most recent survey shows that they spend more than half of that time on the Internet at home, where they are free from the distractions of the office. Once online, the vast majority of doctors use the Internet to augment their clinical knowledge. Most physicians online also say that the information they find on the Internet has an impact on their knowledge about symptoms, treatments and possible diagnoses.

Consistent with previous surveys, around three-quarters of physicians report that the information they find online has an impact on their prescription decisions. Furthermore, physicians have begun to embrace more sophisticated tools and use the Internet in more discerning ways – for example, by engaging in more interactive activities, adding more types of Web sites to their repertoire and referring patients to Web sites.

In the past year, use of tools like electronic prescribing, electronic medical records and remote disease monitoring has grown beyond a core group of early adopters. Although the number of physicians using these tools is still small, about 40% now use at least one of the three tools. Online communication with patients is holding steady; of the one-quarter of doctors who communicate with patients online, most do so only with the handful who request this method of consultation.

Patients and Internet use

The survey also found that about 80% of all patients surveyed now search the Internet for information about health-related topics. On average, people with chronic medical conditions are going online for health information about nine times a year. The vast majority of them report that the information they find enhances their understanding of their health problems, has an impact on how they manage their overall health, affects how they communicate with their doctors and improves their compliance with prescribed treatments. Once they've logged on, patients visit about three to five health Web sites regularly and report that they find these sites primarily through general search engines. WebMD continues to lead the pack of healthcare sites, followed by the health sections of mass-market portals, such as Yahoo! and MSN. PR

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