So who says America's doctors are computer-challenged dinosaurs, more comfortable with pen and paper than a keyboard and computer mouse?
Presenting a glossy, high-tech image of the profession, the American Medical Association released a survey last week showing that more than 90% of all U.S. doctors use computers for a wide variety of everyday functions, including Internet research, e-mail communications and regulatory updates.
Indeed, 93% of solo practitioners or physicians in two-person practices said they use computers; the number jumped to 98% for those in group practices. Only a relative handful won't relinquish the past: Six percent of solo/two-doctor practices said they don't use computers and do not plan to do so in the next 12 months.
The results, presented in a study called 2001 Technology Usage in Physician Practice Management, belies a common image of the typical physician as a Luddite, grumbling about change and unwilling to accept a new way of high-tech life in the 21st century.
"Physicians don't have sawdust between their ears," said Richard Corlin, a gastroenterologist from Santa Monica, Calif., and the AMA's president. "But we're too often a creature of habit. It's easy and more comfortable to do it the old way. But physicians are now definitely embracing high-tech-younger ones especially, and those in group practices."
The AMA's survey comes about six weeks after the Medical Group Management Association released a study showing that about 22% of all healthcare organizations already have implemented electronic medical records-one of the state-of-the-art technology products being marketed to America's medical community. The MGMA's study was co-sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which recently announced a national venture to sell information technology services to doctors in small group practices (Oct. 29, p. 6).
"Many assume the healthcare industry is afraid and slow to adopt technology," said William Jessee, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Denver-based MGMA, whose 18,000 members represent about 6,900 medical groups.
"These results show an exciting paradigm shift in the healthcare industry," he said.
The MGMA's survey, the first of its kind, assumes a rapid growth in electronic-medical records, even though it has no results from earlier years as a basis for comparison. The study also said that 68% now are considering electronic medical records.
Doctors and other healthcare organizations, Jessee said, "are realizing the importance of technology and embracing it to improve productivity and patient satisfaction."
The AMA's study, which involved interviews with 981 practice administrators or managers, found that 100% of group practices with 11 or more doctors used computers. It also showed that about one-fourth of medical practices include someone who uses a handheld computer, primarily to keep calendar dates and appointments. About half of the practices said they expect to increase computer use in the next six months.
The Internet was used most frequently by doctors for medical research, with 79% saying they use it for that purpose, while 68% said they use it for continuing medical education information, 67% for e-mails to business contacts, 64% to get legal and regulatory updates and 63% for drug information.