Internet Use Increases Among U.S. Doctors

BOSTON (06/12/2000) - U.S. doctors and patients are increasingly talking with each other by e-mail about aches, pains and various maladies, a new study released Monday concluded.

A survey of 1,300 U.S. doctors from five major specialty medical societies found that e-mail use on a daily to weekly basis jumped to 6 percent in May 2000 up from 2 percent in August 1999. Although the increase is not earth shattering, physician use of e-mail is about to take off, according to Dr.

Edward Fotsch, chief executive officer of Medem, an e-health network founded by several medical specialty societies and the American Medical Association.

"I think that it (e-mail usage) is going to explode," Fotsch said. "Late 1999, early 2000 was the year of the Web site (for physicians). Now, it is in the book of common knowledge that a physician has a Web site. In the next year, it will be physician e-mail. The Web sites will drive the use of e-mail."

Seventy percent of respondents said they have Internet access at the office, according to the survey which was carried out during late April and early May.

Approximately three out of four physicians polled believe that a physician Web site is an ideal tool for patient education. Moreover, 36 percent of the doctors who currently do not have a Web site for their practice plan to develop one during the next year, the study found.

Dr. Daniel Carlin, founder and CEO of WorldClinic Inc., a global telemedicine group affiliated with the Lahey Clinic in Peabody, Massachusetts, said the use of e-mail combined with the vast array of medical information on offer on the Internet is both a good and a bad thing.

The upside is that e-mail can assist a patient in asking basic questions about medical appointments, refilling prescriptions and proper medication use.

However, patients' e-mail queries can often prompt more concerns or questions from doctors on a medical condition, Carlin said. Some physicians have also said that e-mail is adding to their daily medical duties, he added.

"It is a sore point for some physicians," Carlin said. "It can be another burden on their time."

Carlin made use of e-mail in November 1998 to walk a Russian sailor through the man's own surgery. His medical tips e-mails helped to save the sailor's arm during a solo voyage the Russian was making from South Carolina to South Africa.

Fotsch concurred with Carlin that physicians are concerned that e-mail will increase their current workload. Approximately 25 percent of the respondents to the survey also expressed that concern.

Both Carlin and Fotsch agreed the Internet and medical Web sites provide a wealth of medical information. Many times, however, the sites fail to provide credible data. Patients will bring in armloads of Web site printouts to a medical appointment and that information overload simply creates an additional burden for the doctor, Fotsch said.

Still, potential and demand are driving doctors to provide communication via e-mail.

"It's a great communications vehicle," Fotsch said. "Like the telephone, there is potential for abuse. It is all about how it is used."

Medem, based in San Francisco, California, can be reached at +1-415-596-7424 or at http://www.medem.com/.

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