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New research shows more physicians are going on-line from home, their personal office areas, and their clinical work areas, and many of them are concerned about violating patient privacy. Physicians’ staff also are using the Internet more often for both clinical and administrative work. Most physicians now go on-line on a daily basis, and two out of every five doctors work in practices that have web sites, up from just over a quarter 13 months earlier. Those are some of the findings of a new nationwide Harris Interactive survey of 834 physicians.
The survey was conducted between Jan. 3 and Feb. 7, 2001. The study found well over half (55%) of all practicing physicians use e-mail to communicate with professional colleagues, and a third (34%) use e-mail to communicate with their support staff. However, only 13% of all doctors communicate with any of their patients via e-mail.
Internet, web site, and e-mail usage have all increased significantly, but not dramatically, since December 1999, when the previous "Computing in the Physicians’ Practice" survey was conducted. The proportion of all practicing physicians using the Internet has grown in the clinical work area (from 34% to 40%), in their personal offices (from 51% to 56%) and at home (from 83% to 87%). Only 7% of physicians are not on-line anywhere, compared to 11% in 1999. Forty-two percent of all physicians work in practices with web sites, up from 29% in 1999.
More doctors are communicating by e-mail with both professional colleagues (up from 51% to 55%) and support staff (up from 25% to 34%). Only 36% of physicians are not using e-mail to communicate with staff, colleagues, patients, or third-party payers, compared to 42% in 1999.
Only a few physicians are sending clinical information about individual patients via e-mail. However, the survey respondents indicated this number would rapidly increase if medical records’ privacy were guaranteed. Only 6% of physicians regularly use e-mail to send clinical information about individual patients (such as consultations with colleagues or patients, or ordering prescriptions) and are not inhibited about concerns about privacy and security. Another small minority (8%) uses e-mail to send clinical information, but "would do so even more if security and privacy were fully guaranteed."
Therefore, in total, only one in seven doctors (14%) is using e-mail to send any patient-specific clinical information. Many more (39%) do not, but say they would do so "if the security and privacy of e-mails were guaranteed." However, even if security and privacy were nonissues, fully 40% of physicians say they would not send clinical information by e-mail.