Study: Few Physicians Use IT at Work

By M.L. Baker  |  Posted 10-04-2006

The low adoption of electronic medical records and e-prescribing is well known. Now, a new study has worse news: most physicians do not use inexpensive, widely accessible IT tools in their practice.

The study, to be published in November in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, finds that fewer than 4 percent of physicians e-mail with patients, about 30 percent e-mail with other clinicians and about 40 percent use real-time computerized decision support, including government and professional society Web sites and searchable databases.

Though recent medical school graduates were more likely to use IT than more-experienced doctors, doctors in solo or two-person practices were less likely to use IT regardless of age.

Only 12 percent of doctors in solo/IT practices used most of the basic IT tools queried in the survey. Over 40 percent of doctors working in HMOs or academic practices use such tools.

For more on this topic, see Industry Focus: Healthcare IT

Richard Grant, lead author of the study and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, said one of the goals of the survey was to look at the use of IT that did not require huge capital investments.

Internet access and e-mail, after all, are available in nearly every office in the United States.

Why is it that nearly most of physicians use e-mail in their personal lives, but only a few percent e-mail patients? Steve Grant, lead author of the study says most of the blame rests on how community practices are set up.

"It's not that doctors are dragging their heels because they don't want to use the stuff," he said.

Instead, he blames the systems and work flow in which doctors deliver care. How doctors see patients, and how their offices are structured, rarely put IT tools at doctors' fingertips, Grant said.

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