In perhaps the most surprising finding in the sixth annual Modern Physician/ PricewaterhouseCoopers information technology survey, nearly four in five respondents indicate that the doctors in their groups have high-speed Internet access in their offices.
Of the 431 valid responses to the question about Internet service providers, 343, or 79.6%, say their physicians connect to the Internet by DSL, cable, T-1 or some other form of broadband service. Another 18.3% have slow dial-up connections, while only nine respondents, or 2.1% of those surveyed, say their physicians are not on the Internet at all.
The median organization represented in the survey has 14 physicians, and nearly 58% of all respondents are from groups of fewer than 20 physicians, suggesting that even doctors in smaller practices are surfing the 'Net at high speed.
Even though the seven-hospital Parkview Health integrated delivery network in Fort Wayne, Ind., has a medical staff of 700, all but the 35 primary care physicians employed by the system have other practices outside Parkview facilities. Affiliated physician groups need broadband connections because the hospital has digital imaging, diagnostic radiology and a laboratory information system, according to Executive Vice President Frank Byrne, M.D.
In his survey response, Byrne lists results reporting and access to medical records among the most important Internet functions for Parkview physicians.
"Physicians need to be able to access our laboratory results," says Byrne, a member of the 2003 Modern Physician editorial advisory board.
Parkview itself will not complete the installation of electronic medical records or computerized physician order entry for at least two more years, but many staff physicians already have automated their own offices, says Byrne. High-speed Internet access helps assure that practitioners have as much information as possible to treat hospitalized patients.
"It's not a full EMR or CPOE, but docs are able to access their office records from PCs in the hospital, which is a tremendous quality enhancement," Byrne says.
The survey also indicates the Internet is becoming a popular place for physicians to read clinical journals and communicate with other practitioners, though physician-patient e-mail is not catching on as rapidly.
Screenland Medical, an otolaryngology practice in Culver City, Calif., has just three physicians, but it has a digital subscriber line feeding its local area network.
President Marc Kayem, M.D., takes advantage of the speedy connection to order supplies, participate in several ENT Internet discussion groups and find journal articles.
"I still read more on paper, but sometimes I do look online. If I want to do reprints for the office, I can go online and download high-quality PDFs."
A staggering 95% of his patients have asked to communicate with the practice via e-mail--far beyond the survey average of 6.8%--but that is because Kayem is proactive. On personal information forms for office visits, patients are asked, "May we contact you by e-mail?"
"People definitely like the idea of having access," Kayem says.
Kayem says he likes to return laboratory results by standard e-mail. Although he does not follow the recommendations of privacy experts to set up a secure Web site for delivering clinical results, Kayem is careful not to divulge any sensitive or potentially embarrassing information in e-mail messages.
"I won't use it to tell someone they have HIV or something like that," he says.
Click here for the chart "For which of the following is the Internet important to your physicians?"