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While more practices are using the Internet to improve and provide medical services, "our research shows that most physicians just don’t get it,’" finds a study by Harris Interactive of Rochester, NY, a subsidiary of the Harris Poll.
Harris Interactive did find that more practicing physicians are on-line. 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 one-fourth of doctors over a year ago. Physicians’ staffs are also using the Internet more often for both clinical and administrative work. The study found that on-line health care consumers have had many frustrating experiences with their office visits which they believe the Internet could help correct, such as:
A significant majority (81%) of on-line users would like to receive e-mail reminders about preventive care and follow-up e-mails after visits to doctors (83%) and to have their doctors access and monitor their lab tests on-line (84%).
A by-product of managed care is that the amount of time patients spend with their doctors during an office visit has declined from a total visit of 25 minutes in 1993 to about 19 minutes today. Of this time, only two or three minutes is actually spent in face-to-face conversation between the doctor and patient.
"Given the pressure on physicians to increase their productivity by seeing more patients, which in turn means spending less time with each patient — it is no surprise that many patients feel the way they do," says Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll.
As one member of one of the survey’s focus groups said: "I’d prefer to e-mail my doctor with a question and get an e-mail back from him, rather than phoning and talking to the receptionist who leaves a message for his nurse, who calls me back and then asks the doctor, then calls me back with his response, and if I have a [follow-up] question, she has to call back yet again."
Many physicians are reluctant to make wider use of the Internet until standards have been set for reimbursement, medical records privacy, and malpractice risk. However, most seemed concerned that it will lead to the impersonalization of care.
"I think it would be a shame to manage patients’ health care on the Internet and to lose the human interaction and contact," one physician told Harris. "How can you build trust in your physician over a computer? I think one of the basic things we learned was human touch and caring. I find it difficult to believe that that — or some of that — won’t be lost over the Internet."