The American Medical Association has transferred its biographical information on 650,000 physicians to a database on the Internet and is mobilizing a campaign to get the word out to prospective patients everywhere.
Organized to be searched by physician name, city, ZIP code and specialty, the service on the AMA's World Wide Web site gives consumers around the country a single source from which to select a local physician-narrowing possible choices to whatever geographic area and medical discipline they choose.
The electronic listings also include a physician's education, residencies and board certification as well as current office address and telephone number.
The AMA has maintained a listing of all physicians licensed and educated in the United States since 1906, but it began kicking around the idea of making that information accessible to the public about a year ago, said spokesman Dan Maier.
Up and running since Aug. 1, the physician information database, called Physician Select, is one of two main consumer-oriented features on the AMA's Internet site. The other, a patient reference library, contains clinical abstracts and articles from the Journal of the American Medical Association and the AMA's nine specialty journals, along with a database of 7,000 approved medical residency programs for graduating medical students.
Besides loading the vitals of all practicing physicians onto the Web, the AMA is dangling some extra informational features as perks of AMA membership and an incentive for non-AMA doctors to join.
All dues-paying members are offered an expanded Web page on which they can include additional practice information-such as practice philosophy, health plans accepted, hospital privileges, group practice affiliations, personal information and practice hours-and even a photo. AMA members are identified in the database by the association's logo.
For other doctors, the special Web-page listing can be "purchased" for $425. That's the price of an AMA membership for a year, said Richard Corlin, M.D., speaker of the AMA's House of Delegates.
Corlin said that annual cost is less than the monthly cost of a listing in the Yellow Pages. A gastroenterologist, Corlin said he has paid up to $8,400 a year for a listing in the book serving his practice region in Southern California.
But Maier said the Yellow Pages still will be an essential overhead cost for physicians while interest in and access to the Internet are in their early stages. So far, only "a handful" of the AMA's 297,000 members have enhanced their biographical listings, he said.
The AMA's push to publicize the physician listing began only late last month, after testing the database's electronic performance and ability of the screen display to appear correctly when transmitted through Internet service providers such as America Online, Maier said.
Since then, discussions about the AMA site have aired on "CBS Morning News" and Microsoft NBC, a start-up cable channel, Maier said. USA Today also has included the service in a regular feature on new computer products and services.
The AMA anticipates advertising in "two to three dozen" selected newspapers around the country, he added.
No monitoring of the service's use has been set up yet, but the AMA's figures show that the number of access requests, or "hits," on its Internet "home page" doubled to about 60,000 a day once Physician Select was made known to the public.
Overall, the association budgeted about $250,000 in calendar 1996 to develop the Web site and begin marketing it. At least $100,000 will be spent in 1997 on marketing and additional technical development, Maier said.
The technical work centers on negotiating agreements with hospitals, group practices and other institutions that may be developing a Web presence involving physician information.
Using software devices called "hypertext links," provider organizations may be able to set up a direct transfer of Internet "visitors" from their site to the AMA's database for information on physicians on their provider panels, Maier said.