Despite the growing number of health information Web sites, lists of bookmarked URLs in physicians' Web browsers are often quite short. Physician Web-searching behavior is not so different than than that of other consumers, as doctors tend to stick to a few favorite sites, according to a survey by the Boston Consulting Group and Harris Interactive.
Web sites meet a wide range of physician needs, from job-hunting to researching to continuing medical education. But for health-related information, almost 70% of 400 physicians surveyed in 2002 regularly visited just three or fewer sites, the report says. The majority of physicians use the Internet to build their clinical knowledge; 90% who log on for professional reasons cite this as their main purpose.
It is clear that more doctors are using e-health to enhance their practices, but the movement may not have progressed as fast as some would expect, says Carina von Knoop, a BCG vice president and lead author of the report, called "Vital Signs."
"As we find so often with a big revolution or evolutionary movements, the impact of the Internet in medicine is probably underestimated, but the speed for the transition to use of the Internet is probably overestimated," von Knoop says.
About 43% of physicians named professional association and specialty sites, such as the AMA, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as those most commonly visited. WebMD and MedScape dominated the single sites physicians mentioned, according to the BCG report.
Medline, a creation of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, came in fifth in the survey, although several physicians and medical librarians tout Medline as the "ultimate" Web resource.
Under the leadership of NLM director Donald Lindberg, M.D., Medline, which is free, now fields more than 500 million searches annually. Medline pulls information from about 4,500 international medical journals, meaning more than 500,000 articles are added each year, Lindberg says.
"To each individual physician, that's worse than drinking from a firehose," Lindberg says. "It isn't possible to keep up by casually reading. The best job is really done by a computer search of the literature on a topic you're stimulated to look into by a patient care problem."
A big issue for physicians is who sponsors the site, says Patricia Thibodeau, president of the Chicago-based Medical Library Association. "Because if it is heavily drug-sponsored, they may not get the same authoritative information as they would from a government or association site," she says.