Americans Use Internet To Manage Their Health, But Most Doctors Are Slow To Use Tech Tools, Say Surveys

While 51% of patients are willing to pay for e-health record services if reasonably priced, only 11% of the doctors surveyed say they use electronic patient records.
There's a gap between how American patients want to use the Internet for health care and how doctors are actually using it in their practices, according to findings of several new surveys.

Americans are using the Internet to manage their health care, and they also want their doctors to use online tools to improve care services. However, most physicians aren't using those IT tools, according to the surveys.

One in three Americans say the Internet is changing the way they manage their health care, says a new survey of 4,105 adults that was commissioned by Cisco Systems and conducted recently by research company Illuminas.

The Cisco survey found that 62% Americans have used online health tools. The top five reasons cited for using the Internet for health-related reasons were to access information about symptoms and diagnoses, access general wellness and fitness information, attempt to self-diagnose, manage prescriptions, and self-assess health.

And while 45% of those surveyed say they'd like to directly e-mail their doctors, only 11% report their doctors are accessible electronically. Thirty-four percent of Americans say they'd like to access lab tests via a secure Web site, but only 7% say they have that option from their health care providers. And while 33% say they'd like to schedule health care appointments electronically, only 9% say online scheduling is available to them.

Still, while many consumers say they use online health tools, they also admit there are "hurdles" -- especially concerns about data privacy and security -- that prevent them from using personal technology more to manage their health, according to the Cisco study.

Thirty-nine percent say they're concerned about their private health information being released unnecessarily, while 38% fear identity information will be stolen or abused. Nearly one in four fear that their private health information will be used to discriminate against them.

Meanwhile, a new survey of 600 consumers and 100 physicians by Accenture finds that while 51% of patients would be willing to pay for e-health record services from their provider if the services were reasonably priced, only 11% of the doctors surveyed say they use electronic patient records.

According to the Accenture survey, the top e-health record benefits cited by consumers are the ability to ask their doctors more informed questions, the ability to confirm information provided by the doctor, easier access to medical information, and getting a better understanding of treatment options.

From the doctors' perspective, top benefits of e-health records are easier sharing and obtaining of information, access to more comprehensive patient information, fewer lost records, improved efficiency in patient billing, and reduced clinical errors.

Finally, while doctor practices have been slow to adopt electronic tools for clinical care, IT adoption seems to be increasing by hospitals, according to a new survey by the American Hospital Association.

Nearly half of the 1,500 community hospitals surveyed by AHA report moderate or high use of IT tools in 2006, up from 37% in 2005. Nearly seven in 10 hospitals surveyed also report that they have fully or partially implemented e-health record systems.

The initial investment and ongoing costs associated with health IT are the most common barriers that hospitals and doctor practices cite in deploying e-health records and other electronic clinical tools. For doctor offices especially, a lack of trained staff to support the systems is also a big challenge, as well as the time needed for busy practices to adapt to changes in processes and workflow that technology brings.