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47% Of Doctors Use Smartphone, Tablet And PC

More clinicians than ever are "digital omnivores," using smartphones, tablets, and computers for clinical work, survey says.

Ken Terry

August 14, 2013

4 Min Read

10 Mobile Health Apps From Uncle Sam

10 Mobile Health Apps From Uncle Sam

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Clinicians are rapidly increasing their use of mobile devices at work, according to a new report from Epocrates, a vendor of mobile reference materials that is owned by EHR vendor Athenahealth.

Of the 1,063 physicians and mid-level practitioners who responded to Epocrates' survey, 86% of the clinicians now use smartphones in their professional activities, up from 78% in 2012. In addition, 53% use tablets at work, compared to 34% last year. All of the respondents use desktop/laptop computers. And nearly half fall into a new category that Epocrates dubs "digital omnivores," who use all three platforms, or "screens." The percentage of digital omnivores has increased to 47% from 28% in 2012, and the report predicts that this group will shoot up to 82% of the total next year, largely because of the skyrocketing use of tablets among clinicians.

Tablet adoption already accounts for the bulk of the increase in mobile device use. Nearly two years ago, 80% of physicians reported using mobile devices at work -- but back then, most of them were using only smartphones. Last year, Manhattan Research found that 62% of doctors were using tablets for professional purposes. The lower number in the Epocrates survey may be related to differences in study samples.

[ The mobile health market is poised for takeoff. Read Mobile Health Market To Reach $26B By 2017. ]

Epocrates surveyed primary care doctors, cardiologists, oncologists and psychiatrists, each of which accounted for roughly a fifth of the respondents. The other fifth consisted of physician assistants and nurse practitioners. The percentage of digital omnivores was highest in oncology (59%), cardiology (54%), and primary care (48%), followed by psychiatrists (44%), NPs (40%) and PAs (30%).

The digital omnivores use desktops and laptops about the same amount as their less mobile colleagues, but they prefer mobile devices for all tasks where it's possible to use them. The differences between the two groups are most notable in reading journal materials, using professional resources such as Epocrates and Medscape, CME activities, Internet searches, and communicating with colleagues by e-mail.

But there has also been a significant increase in the use of tablets to interact with EHRs. Most of this activity appears to be looking up notes and e-prescribing; the majority of clinical documentation is still done on desktops/laptops. Of all respondents, 49% said they used their tablets to interact with EHRs, compared to 71% who said they used desktop/laptop computers for that purpose.

Only a third of respondents who had EHRs said their systems had been optimized for use on mobile devices. Given the quickly increasing use of these devices, the report noted that market pressure for innovation in this area is mounting.

Epocrates confirmed the finding of the Manhattan Research survey that digital omnivores tend to spend more time online on the three devices and go online more often during the workday than do clinicians who use only one or two "screens." Overall, the report said, "Tablet and smartphone usage accounts for upwards of 40% of a typical clinician's digital time at work. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners express the biggest preference for using mobile devices during the day."

But their use of mobile doesn't stop there. Like many other busy professionals, clinicians keep their mobile devices powered on in the evening, and the clinicians use those devices more than they use desktop/laptop computers after hours.

The reaction of hospitals and health systems to the rapidly increasing use of mobile devices by healthcare professionals has been cautious. An Aruba Networks survey in early 2012 found that while 85% of institutions had BYOD policies, the majority restricted the kind of data that clinicians could access on their smartphones and tablets. Twenty-four percent of respondents said their hospitals allowed limited access to hospital applications on mobile devices, and only 8% had full access to the hospital network.

About the Author(s)

Ken Terry


Ken Terry is a freelance healthcare writer, specializing in health IT. A former technology editor of Medical Economics Magazine, he is also the author of the book Rx For Healthcare Reform.

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