Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Internet transforming health care industry
As doctors move past skepticism, Internet technologies are transforming the health care industry. Recent national research reveals impacts of Internet-based tools and services (e-health) such as patient information Web sites. Major trends affecting doctors include:
- Patients sharing in decision-making. Easy availability of information on the Internet is changing doctor-patient relationships. Patients who research medical conditions online take more active roles in their health care. They increasingly share with their doctors responsibility for making key health decisions.
- Doctors improving care and efficiency. Doctors are reaping benefits by adding the World Wide Web to their medical bag of tools. While waste and inefficiencies have long plagued the paper-based health care sector ($1.3 trillion in 2000), doctors are now embracing Internet technologies as strategic tools they can use to improve care, save time and lower costs.
Changing patient-physician relationship
Accurate and unbiased health information can empower patients to make informed decisions about their care. The Journal of the American Medical Association observes, "Access to medical information via the Internet has the potential to speed the transformation of the patient-physician relationship from that of the physician ministering advice and treatment to that of shared decision-making between patient and physician."
Studies show the majority of American adults with Internet access seek health and medical information online. They use the Web for three main reasons:
Patients often want to learn more about a specific medical condition for themselves or family members. Internet information may be their first source to determine if they need to see a doctor, and/or they may use it to learn more about a condition diagnosed by their doctor. Patients who seek medical information on the Web tend to be more proactive. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) May 2001 report, "The E-Health Patient Paradox," they are more likely to:
- Convenience. The Internet is always available.
- Abundance. You can find a wealth of information on almost any topic.
- Anonymity. Nobody knows what you're looking for.
- Take action that affects their diagnosis and treatment.
- Ask physicians more questions and in greater detail.
- Suggest specific illnesses they may be suffering from and request specific treatments.
Medical societies: trusted information source
Although two-thirds of patients use search engines (i.e., Yahoo, Alta Vista, etc.) or other scattershot methods to locate health information on the Internet, they consider the source of information the most important factor in choosing what to trust. "Unbiased information associated with a credible brand" is what people searching the Internet for health information want, according to BCG's January 2001 report, "Patients, Physicians and the Internet."
People "trust data from university clinics and medical societies," BCG says, noting that research institutes and academic medical centers are "well positioned" to provide information to patients and physicians and to keep up with rapid increases in medical knowledge.
Doctors can help patients find reliable Web sites that present comprehensive, high quality information in understandable language. Some suggestions:
- Build customized physician Web sites. Offered as a free benefit of membership, AAOS doctors can build their own customized Personal Physician Web sites (i.e., OrthoDoc) to connect with patients through their practices. Since March 2000, 1,620 AAOS doctors have built AAOS OrthoDoc Web sites. Since August 2000, these Web sites have been used more than 82,000 times by patients and the public. In aggregate, this is an average of almost 4,900 visits per month.
- Recommend Your Orthopaedic Connection. Orthopaedic surgeons can also recommend the AAOS patient education Web site, Your Orthopaedic Connection. (See sidebar article for ideas on reaching patients at all levels of computer ability.)
Opportunities will continue in coming years for physicians and medical institutions to reach and influence patients with online health care information, according to a December 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 15-24 year olds. The report, "Generation Rx.com: How Young People Use the Internet for Health Information," finds among young people with Internet access:
- 75 percent look up health information online.
- 85 percent trust health information they receive from doctors.
Doctors embracing technology
Some doctors are becoming as comfortable online as their patients. The BCG September 2001 report, "Doctors Say E-Health Delivers," finds about one-third of doctors are adopting Internet technologies that enhance patient care, and 89 percent of doctors use the Internet to enrich their own medical knowledge. A recent American Medical Association (AMA) survey of the use of technology in physician offices' found:
Some doctors are adopting online patient care tools for electronic medical records, electronic prescribing, online communication with patients (i.e., email and Internet consultations) and remote disease monitoring. BCG says doctors who use Internet technologies:
- 96 percent have computers.
- 75 percent have Internet access.
- Improve overall efficiency.
- Deliver better patient care.
- Increase patient satisfaction.
Last modified 05/February/2002