Deloitte and Fulcrum take pulse of 1200 physicians to know their IT conduct

New York 29 January 2002The heated debate around health care costs is not enough on its own to spark physicians' interest in using even common information technologies, such as e-mail, to increase their efficiency. Twenty-three percent of all physicians report they interact with their patients by e-mail, up only four percent from last year, according to a Deloitte Research and Fulcrum Analytics survey. This research study was completed by means of an in-depth telephone interview with a representative sample of 1200 practising physicians in the United States during October-November 2001.

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Of the doctors not currently e-mailing their patients, 79 percent indicated that their preference for "face-to-face" communication was the primary reason for not interacting with patients on-line. Of those physicians, 54 percent note that insurance reimbursement is the leading driver for them to e-mail their patients in the future, according to "Taking the Pulse v 2.0: Physicians and Emerging Information Technologies" by Fulcrum Analytics and Deloitte Research.

Other future drivers of adoption include the ability to reallocate staff: 43 percent, save time: 42 percent, see more patients in a week: 37 percent, and cut expenses: 37 percent. Nine percent of doctors responding to the survey did not expect reimbursement for e-mail interactions with their patients. The average payment recommended by these same physicians was $57 per 15-minute on-line consultation.

"We know from our prior surveys that patients are clamouring for e-mail interactions, but so far only a fraction of doctors have embraced the notion of e-visits", stated Jason Girzadas, Principal, Deloitte Consulting Health Care Practice. "Physicians will not adopt technology for technology's sake or just because it is the next new hot idea. Our survey clearly indicates that physicians evaluate emerging information technologies very carefully, looking for the creation of real and sustainable business and clinical value."

Doctors responding to the survey indicated some reluctance to engage in widespread e-mail communications with patients, but 55 percent do recommend certain credible Web sites to their patients. Despite an increase in general Web site recommendations, compared to the 2000 "Taking the Pulse" survey, fewer physicians in the 2001 survey report that they are likely to direct patients to some of the most popular commercial and disease-specific sites.

It is unclear where doctors are re-routing their patients, but, according to the survey, seven percent of patients are bringing their own on-line search results into their doctors' offices. Scott Taylor, Partner, Deloitte and Touche stated: "It may be that physicians are finding other Web sites they are referring their patients to rather than always pointing them to the most well-known Web sites."

Many e-Prescribing companies went broke failing to realise that e-Prescribing requires a system, not merely a device. Virtually all doctors who responded to the survey are not prescribing electronically, but 40 percent express future interest in electronic prescribing, given the right system is designed, developed, and managed properly.

Ruth Given, Deloitte Research, Director for Health Care stated: "There is growing recognition that this is an opportunity to significantly improve the overall quality of care provided by physicians. However, the medical community still relies on the inconsistent legibility of handwritten prescriptions. We need a true e-Prescribing solution that accepts the order, transmits it to a central or local processing hub, and then routes it to the appropriate fulfilment channel, typically a retail pharmacy or mail order provider."

According to the survey, 32 percent of on-line doctors visit pharmaceutical corporate Web sites. The leading activity at pharmaceutical corporate Web sites is learning about new drugs (61 percent) and learning how to prescribe those drugs (51 percent). These same doctors are also learning about diseases, clinical trials, and what patients are reading. Mark Bard, Director, Healthcare Practice, Fulcrum Analytics, stated: "We will see this trend continue with an additional 15 percent of doctors reporting they are interested in the future use of these programmes as part of their pharmaceutical marketing mix."

Interestingly, over half of all physicians who responded to the survey indicate that they hope to view laboratory results via their PDAs in the future, but the applications and infrastructure at the practice or hospital level needed to support this functionality are under development. Therefore, of the 30 percent of all physicians who report that they currently own a PDA, 84 percent maintain their personal schedules and 67 percent manage their professional scheduling through the device. An additional 57 percent of these same doctors are using the device to access drug databases.

To reduce sampling bias in the survey, the research was described as "a study regarding communication channels utilised by your practice". Unlike most other studies of this nature, the final data set was then compared to known universe benchmarks. It was determined that the data and findings are applicable to the universe of practising physicians in the United States today. A similar study has been conducted by Harris Interactive with 400 physicians in the period February-March 2001. The results are available in the VMW December 2001 article eHealth as new bag of physician tools, poised to transform economics of health care.


Leslie Versweyveld

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