Study: Docs influenced by online information

March 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

The vast majority of doctors use the Internet as a tool for enriching their medical knowledge according to a new study.

The vast majority of doctors use the Internet as a tool for enriching their medical knowledge, and the medical information these doctors are finding on the Internet is influencing the types of diagnoses they make and the kinds of medications they prescribe, according to "Doctors Say E-Health Delivers," a recent study on e-health by The Boston Consulting Group.

Finding medical information online

"Many industry experts expected that - at best - the Internet would prove a diversion for doctors who had light clinical practices or a serious interest in computers," said Carina von Knoop, a BCG vice president and co-leader of the firm's e-health initiative. "But our interviews indicate that 89% of physicians use the Internet and that virtually all of these doctors have moved some of their medical knowledge-enrichment activities online. Fully 90% of doctors online research clinical information on the Internet."

These findings have significant implications for healthcare companies, according to von Knoop. "The pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. alone spent $13 billion last year to reach doctors, but spent only 1% of that amount on Internet channels," she said. "These same companies continue to rely on drug reps as the preferred medium for physician education, but the average doctor spends less than one hour a week with reps - compared with about three hours a week seeking medical information online. This disparity suggests that companies that don't reallocate some of their marketing investments may soon find themselves underinvesting in a highly promising new channel."

The study also found that the vast majority of doctors who visit health-related Web sites - ranging from 70% to 90%, depending on the survey question - reported that the information they find online has an impact on medical decisions. Roughly one-third of these doctors reported that the information they find on the Internet has a major impact on the way they interact with patients; around 20% said it has a major impact on their knowledge of symptoms and diagnoses, as well as on the way they interact with patients; and 13% said it has a major impact on the drugs they prescribe.

Over two-thirds of physicians surveyed behave like online consumers, returning regularly to between two and five sites. Doctors who visit at least one site regularly named WebMD, Medscape and Physicians' Online as their top three destinations.

Using online tools for patient care

Already 26% of physicians surveyed are communicating with patients over the Internet, and 22% are relying on electronic medical records to store and track information about their patients. On a smaller scale, 11% of doctors are prescribing drugs electronically and 5% monitor patients' health electronically, but planned adoption would roughly triple these percentages in the next 18 months.

"Such growth will occur primarily as word spreads among physicians that the tools deliver," said von Knoop. "Already most users in our survey report that online patient-care tools have improved their overall efficiency, enabled them to deliver better care, increased patient satisfaction and, in some cases, saved their practices money. The early successes with patient-care tools illustrate the depth and breadth of the opportunities they present to doctors - and healthcare players." PR

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