Physicians underuse the Web

October 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Few physicians are taking the time to use the Internet, according to a recent study released by the American Medical Association.

Few physicians are taking the time to use the Internet, according to a recent study released by the American Medical Association.

Of 1,905 randomly selected physicians interviewed in a telephone survey, 1,101 physicians said they don't use computers. Another 414 said they use computers but not the World Wide Web, and 390 said they use both computers and the World Wide Web. In terms of percentage, that means a mere 20% of physicians are Web users. This number is in contrast to the frequently cited 40% to 55%, according to the study's author, because the data includes all physicians - not just those who have computers.

"The results of this study are comprehensive and useful to any organization wanting to gain a better understanding of how physicians make use of the Web," said Paul Trotto, director of product development and research at the American Medical Association.

Among those using the Web, the majority (27%) said they had been doing so for 19 to 24 months. Twenty-two percent said they had been using the Web for one to six months, and another 22% said they had been doing so for seven to 12 months. Only 18% of the 390 Web-using physicians said they had been surfing the Internet for 25 months or longer.

As many as 42% of physicians using the Web said they use it daily. Thirty-six percent said they used the Web approximately two or three times per week, and another 11% said they surfed the Web about once per week. Responses from the remaining 11% fell evenly among "two to three times per month," "about once per month" and "less than once per month."

Regardless of how frequently physicians use the Web, few stay on the Internet for long. Only 18% said they surf for seven hours or more per week. The majority - 64% - limit their time to four hours per week or fewer.

Interestingly, when asked whether they expected their Web usage would increase or decrease within the next six months, none of the Web-using physicians anticipated their usage would decrease. Although 44% said they expected it would stay the same, 56% said it would probably increase. And when asked how many hours per week they anticipated spending on the Web in the same future time period, 28% said they expected to surf for seven hours or more per week.

How are physicians using the Web? Most certainly, they are using it to collect drug information and communicate with colleagues and friends. Eighty-three percent of physicians said they used medical information sources such as MEDLINE, and 65% said they used various sites to find product information. Fifty-seven percent specified that they used the Web to find drug information.

Although physicians are using the Web to meet their personal professional needs, few have made the jump to applying the resource to their practices. Only 28% of physicians said they use the Web to collect patient education information, for example, and a mere 13% said they use the Internet to obtain or transfer label test results. Ten percent said they use it to obtain or transfer medical records; 9% said they use it to obtain insurance or managed care data; 7% use it to communicate test results to patients and only 6% use it for health insurance claims processing.

Using the Internet for telemedicine functions such as these is possible today, but the practical application of that potential is far from reality. PR