CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (04/14/2000) - A new report claims that doctors are wary of the Internet and that plans by health care executives to integrate the Web into their information technology plans will remain a long shot until their discomfort is eased.
The report from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Research Inc., titled "Why Doctors Hate the Net," asserts that the success of health care executives' business plans depends on doctors being online but that doctors don't put much faith in the Internet's usefulness right now. So "the Net looms as a major obstacle," the report states.
The study, based on 60 interviews with U.S. and Canadian doctors and health care executives, found that doctors have many complaints about the Internet.
They said they don't want to e-mail patients without being paid, they don't trust the quality of medical information on the Web and they're concerned about the security of sensitive records being transferred online.
But Richard Corlin, speaker of the House of Delegates at the American Medical Association (AMA) in Chicago and a gastroenterologist in Santa Monica, California, disagreed with the findings.
Corlin said AMA studies show that 80% of physicians are using computers and that technology use within the medical profession is basically the same as it is in other walks of life.
Analyst Michael Barrett, the author of the Forrester report, said doctors have a distrust of high-tech systems.
"Doctors have been burned before by technology," said Barrett, referring to a previous generation of LANs and electronic data interchange relationships with health maintenance organizations. While doctors sped up their billing practices, he said, insurers didn't cut down on the turnaround time for payments, because they were holding on to the money until it could be invested.
But Barrett said doctors may see online automated billing in a positive light because electronic claims are accurate and don't require extensive review and "cleaning" after submission.
The report also cites two technologies, voice recognition and personal digital assistants (PDA), as attractive but not yet ready for prime time.
"Wireless might be the thing that gets them to buy in," Barrett said.
The downside is that too many PDA choices exist, and a shakeout must occur so that physicians don't have to negotiate clutter, he said. The report calls on the AMA to push for PDA and wireless standards.
Though the quality of medical content on the Web has been questioned, Corlin said the tide seems to be turning.
He cited the financial troubles of the once-successful DrKoop.com as evidence of a shift in demand from commercial, entertainment-oriented information to more substantial content. The information on DrKoop.com is available for free and supported by advertising, which makes it suspect to many doctors, according to Corlin.
Jay Thorwaldson, a spokesman for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) in California, said doctor resistance is the result of "inertia of how you do things."
Physicians at PAMF have been forging ahead on the Internet, perhaps as a result of the influence of their patients.
PAMF is in the process of developing fully integrated "virtual clinic" Web sites where patients can set appointments, provide condition updates, review test results, request prescription refills and receive bulletins and advisories from doctors.
"It allows us to integrate and extend the facility," Thorwaldson said.