Docs adopt and adapt, yet still cling to old ways

By Erin McCann
10:56 AM
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The technology takeover has begun, and physicians nationwide are acclimating one step at a time, a new physician survey reveals. Laptop, smartphone and iPad usage is increasingly common among U.S. physicians, but the report finds old-fashioned methods of communication continuing to stand their ground.

The second annual National Physicians Survey, conducted by the little blue book and Sharecare, polled 1,190 U.S. practitioners representing more than 75 medical specialties. It reveals physicians' perceptions about the ongoing changes in the healthcare system and how those changes are impacting their daily practices as well as their ability to provide optimal patient care. 

Two out of three physicians (66 percent) say the integration of electronic medical records (EMRs) is among their practice challenges. Despite that, most doctors (66 percent) acknowledge EMRs will at least improve or have a neutral effect on their future business.

[See also: EHR adoption still a top concern for physician practices.]

Almost one out of three doctors (30 percent) are using laptops regularly for e-prescribing, EMRs and more. Almost a quarter (20 percent) are using smartphones, and 12 percent use iPads, for clinical needs.

Additional survey highlights:

  • Peer-to-peer communication is occurring via email – despite not being a "secure channel."
  • Thirty-four percent of physicians communicate with other clinicians via email – not defined as a "secure channel" by HIPAA.
  • Telephone (95 percent) and fax (63 percent) are still the primary forms of communication.
  • A dinosaur in most other office environments today, the fax is still king with physicians, supporting hand-written notes, insurance forms and lab test result transmissions.
  • Fifty-eight percent of doctors communicate with peers in person.
  • Five percent use social networking sites
  • Doctor-to-patient communication remains fairly traditional, with some online inroads.
  • The majority of physicians (91 percent) talk with patients via phone, 84 percent in person, 20 percent via email, 8 percent via personal health records (PHRs) and 6 percent via text.
  • Few physicians are opting for solo practices these days -- a good portion are "employed" by hospitals, large practices or accountable care organizations (ACOs).
  • Twenty-two percent of physicians are in ACO talks, up from 12 percent last year
  • Of those who said they were aware of ACOs, 37 percent stated that they would participate as a member of a group practice, 27 percent as a member of a physician-hospital organization, 10 percent as a hospital-employed physician.
  • Only 17 percent of the respondents were unfamiliar with the ACO term, down from 45 percent last year.

Doctors say new patients find them via:

  • Word of mouth (71 percent)
  • Practice networks referrals (33 percent)
  • Print directories (29 percent)
  • Internet searches (22 percent)

[See also: Technology can assist collaboration needed for care management.]

Despite an onslaught of healthcare regulations and requirements and shrinking practice margins, physicians are finding some advocates.

  • Forty-one percent say their state medical organization/society advocates for them. 
  • Thirty-nine percent say their national medical organization/society does.
  • But 40 percent report "no one."

Still, overwhelmingly burdened by obtaining reimbursements from insurers (81 percent) and patient approvals (77 percent), most doctors (71 percent) believe the quality of healthcare will deteriorate over the next five years.

  • Fifty-five percent fear they aren't spending adequate time with each patient.
  • Thirty-eight percent are concerned they aren't seeing enough patients in a day.

"Physicians today are practicing in a healthcare environment that they never could have predicted much less prepared for," said Keith Steward, MD, senior vice president of medical affairs at Sharecare. "This year's National Physicians Survey provides valuable insight into the frustrations and opportunities of the day-to-day management of practices, administration tools doctors use, and how communication with both colleagues and patients is evolving.

"Arming doctors with innovative solutions to ease administrative burdens is a top priority for the healthcare industry," he adds. "Doctors need to get back to what they were trained to do – provide their patients with the best care possible."

[See also: Docs believe EHRs safer than paper, but patients still ambivalent.]