|Doctors Are Now Online in Force |
Wednesday December 5, 8:02 am Eastern Time
SOURCE: The Boston Consulting Group
Doctors Are Now Online in Force -- and Their Medical Decisions Are Influenced by the Information They Find There.
Doctors Who Search for Info Online or Use Online Tools for Patient Care Find that the Internet Enhances their Knowledge, Efficiency, and Quality of Care, According to BCG
Dec. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- The Internet is already changing the physician behaviors that health care players seek to influence. Today, the vast majority of doctors use the Internet as a tool for enriching their medical knowledge, and the medical information these doctors are finding on the Internet is influencing -- in many cases significantly -- the types of diagnoses they are making and the kinds of medications they are prescribing. These unexpected findings are the result of interviews with more than 400 U.S. physicians, conducted as part of Doctors Say E-Health Delivers, the recent study on e-health by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The proprietary study was designed and conducted jointly with Harris Interactive.
Doctors Say E-Health Delivers also finds that about one-third of doctors are adopting or planning to adopt Internet technologies that enhance the care they deliver to patients.
The doctors who have already adopted electronic medical records, electronic prescribing, online communication with patients, and remote disease monitoring say that these online patient-care tools have boosted their efficiency and the quality of care.
And the remaining doctors are planning to adopt these tools in the future at relatively aggressive rates -- from about 10 percent to 20 percent depending on the tool -- greatly bolstering the e-health channel in the next year and a half.
Doctors Say E-Health Delivers explores physicians' use of e-health tools and examines the sector-specific implications for pharmaceutical companies, managed care organizations, and health-care-delivery systems. Its findings indicate that e-health is poised to quietly transform the economics of health care as well as the methods used to influence decision-makers in the industry. In such an environment, e-health strategies, which have failed Internet startups, could prove integral to the success of incumbent health care players.
Finding Medical Information Online
``Many industry experts expected that -- at best -- the Internet would prove a diversion for doctors who had light clinical practices or a serious interest in computers. But our interviews indicate that 89 percent of physicians use the Internet and that virtually all of these doctors have migrated some of their medical knowledge-enrichment activities online. Fully 90 percent of doctors online research clinical information on the Internet,'' says Carina von Knoop, a BCG vice president and co-leader of the firm's e- health initiative.
``Also significant is our finding that the busiest clinicians are most likely to turn to the Web to enrich their professional knowledge,'' Ms. von Knoop continues. ``These are the doctors who spend more time with patients and who therefore have more opportunities to diagnose conditions, manage patient care, select treatments, and write prescriptions. Quite simply, they are the very doctors that health care organizations target as they seek to influence the delivery of health care.''
These and other findings from the study have significant implications for health care players, explains Ms. von Knoop. ``The pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. alone spent $13 billion last year to reach doctors, but spent only 1 percent of this amount on Internet channels. These same companies continue to rely on drug reps as the preferred medium for physician education, but the average doctor spends less than one hour a week with reps-compared to about three hours a week seeking medical information online. This disparity suggests that companies that don't reallocate some of their marketing investments may soon find themselves underinvesting in a highly promising new channel.''
The study also found that the vast majority of doctors who visit health- related Web sites -- ranging from 70 percent to 90 percent depending on the survey question -- report that the information they find online has an impact on medical decisions about diagnoses and treatment. Roughly one-third of these same doctors report that the information they find on the Internet has a major impact on the way they interact with patients; around 20 percent say that it has a major impact on their knowledge of symptoms and diagnoses, as well as on the way they interact with patients; and 13 percent said that it has a major impact on the drugs they prescribe. These doctors may well represent the first wave of e-health practitioners.
``Clearly, in an environment of increased financial and competitive pressures, pharmaceutical companies, managed care organizations, and health- care-delivery systems cannot afford to ignore the potential advantages that online knowledge-enrichment tools offer,'' says Ms. von Knoop. ``Yet these advantages will not accrue to incumbents that continue to relegate e-health to small-scale experiments at the periphery of the businesses.''
Health care companies that seek to tap into the power of online knowledge enrichment will find their task made simpler by the fact that, unlike patients, physicians are easy to find online. More than two-thirds of physicians surveyed behave like online consumers, returning regularly to between two and five sites. Doctors who visit at least one site regularly named WebMD, Medscape, and Physicians' Online as their top three destinations.
``But although it is relatively easy to find doctors online,'' cautions Ms. von Knoop, ``it will be challenging for health care organizations to market to them. It is important to remember that the sites to which doctors return most frequently place strict limits on sponsorship and content. Therefore, health care organizations will need to focus on devising unique and customized ways to get their messages to doctors.''
Using Online Tools for Patient Care
While not yet as popular as knowledge-enrichment tools, electronic tools that help physicians with their daily patient care promise to deliver additional value because they get to the heart of the health care delivery. The tools that offer the greatest potential to both doctors and incumbents are electronic medical records, electronic prescribing, online communication with patients, and remote disease monitoring. About one-third of the doctors in the BCG survey now use or plan to use at least one of the first three tools, and a smaller percentage plan to adopt remote disease monitoring.
Already 26 percent of physicians surveyed are communicating with patients over the Internet, and 22 percent are relying on electronic medical records to store and track information about their patients. On a smaller scale, 11 percent of doctors are prescribing drugs electronically and 5 percent monitor patients' health electronically, but planned adoption would roughly triple these percentages in the next 18 months.
``Such growth will arise primarily as word spreads among physicians that the tools deliver,'' explains Ms. von Knoop. ``Already most users in our survey report that online patient-care tools have improved their overall efficiency, enabled them to deliver better care, increase patient satisfaction, and, in some cases, saved their practices money. The early successes with patient-care tools illustrate the depth and breadth of the opportunities they present to doctors-and health care players.''
Because online tools for patient care are delivering on their promises, they are already creating value for doctors and patients. Incumbents such as drug companies, MCOs, and health-care-delivery systems can capitalize on this value and even capture some for themselves by adding these tools-or at least linking them-to current offerings. ``At a time when pharmaceutical companies are competing intensely for attention from physicians, offering valuable and unique online tools may help them differentiate themselves or gain more time with physicians. Likewise, as MCOs struggle to find new avenues for improving care and squeezing costs, they can turn to online tools to gain greater access to doctors -- and perhaps even to guide them -- as they make patient-care decisions,'' says Ms. von Knoop.
Additional BCG Research in E-Health
Doctors Say E-Health Delivers builds on BCG analysis in Vital Signs: The Impact of E-Health on Patients and Physicians (released in February) as well as The E-Health Patient Paradox, an April report exploring how the Internet influences patients to become more active in diagnosing and treating their own conditions. BCG will, on an ongoing basis, be updating this research on physicians and patients.
About The Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a general management consulting firm widely regarded as the global leader in business strategy. Since 1963, BCG has worked with companies in every major industry and global market to develop and implement strategies for competitive success. BCG has 52 offices in 34 countries around the world. More information on BCG can be found on its Web site: www.bcg.com.
SOURCE: The Boston Consulting Group