HIMSS survey: handhelds hot, e-mail not for US physicians

Increased physician use of IT could “ help improve the quality and efficiency of medical care”

Nov. 4, 2002 - Are doctors savvy when it comes to using computers?

More than you might think, according to a survey released today by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a Chicago-based association for healthcare information technology professionals. Physicians, who have been reluctant to use some types of information technology, appear to be increasingly using IT in the practice of medicine.

For example, nearly 72% of physician offices have doctors who practice medicine with a handheld computer of some type, such as a personal digital assistant. And nearly all physician offices have at least one desktop or laptop computer.

However, not all information technology has such broad appeal. For example, only 20% of physician offices are using e-mail to communicate with patients about medical concerns.

“The findings demonstrate that physicians’ offices are investing more in information technology today than in the past,” said Carla Smith, executive vice president of membership and professional services at HIMSS. “Yet, software is generally being used for administrative rather than clinical purposes.”

The HIMSS Clinician Wireless Survey was sponsored by AstraZeneca and supported by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), the American Medical Group Association (AMGA), and the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems (AMDIS). The survey explored the use of computers and information technology in medical group practices and independent physician offices.

Ninety-eight percent of survey respondents reported their facility had a computer located in one administrative location, while only 68% said they use computers in a least one clinical area. Nearly 70% of physician respondents said they use handhelds as a reference on pharmaceuticals before prescribing drugs for patients. Another 41% said they use the devices for scheduling, followed by interfacing with hospital data (12%) and downloading lab values (9%).

“It’s interesting to see that physicians are increasingly embracing the use of information technology,” said Kim Slocum, director of strategic planning and business development, Astrazeneca, and a member of the HIMSS Board of Directors. “Over the long term, further extension of this trend should help physicians improve the quality and efficiency of medical care delivery in the United States.”

While the majority of respondents reported having an Internet connection at their practice, nearly 79% indicated they do not use e-mail to communicate medical information with patients. However, of physician respondents who do use e-mail, 38% reported using the service to communicate medical information to patients. Conversely, 47% of physicians who do not use e-mail said the reason is their patients do not use e-mail. About one-third of physician respondents also cited legal concerns (such as privacy and security of patient data), lack of time, and reimbursement issues.

“Physicians may believe that their patients do not use e-mail because most medical forms don’t ask for e-mail addresses in the first place,” said Smith. “However, increasing e-mail usage will take more than changing medical forms. A culture shift needs to happen that realizes the value of patient/physician e-mail communication.”

Among the study’s other key findings:

Use of an electronic medical records system (EMR) varies by medical practice specialties. While 30% of respondents indicated an EMR was in place in their practice, some 42% of respondents working in an internal medical practice said they have an EMR, followed by multispecialty practice (33%), family practice (30%), and specialty practice (i.e., dermatology, gastroenterology), 27%.
Ninety-one percent of respondents indicated they would make some information technology purchase this year. However, 46% stated they would like to see more affordable software and 36% said they are looking for affordable hardware, given their budget constraints.
Data for the HIMSS Clinician Wireless Survey was collected via a Web-based survey. Over 5,000 physicians, practice managers, and healthcare executives were invited to participate in the survey from August 8-26, 2002.

A detailed report of this survey is available here

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