Docs turn to Google, Yahoo for health info, survey finds

By Molly Merrill
04:31 PM

Google and Yahoo were cited by 46 percent of physicians in a recent survey as a frequent source of information used to diagnose, treat and care for patients.

The Wolters Kluwer Health 2011 Point-of-Care Survey found that another 32 percent of physicians used these general browsers as an occasional resource. Sixty-three percent of physicians also reported they have changed an initial diagnosis based on new information accessed via online resources/support tools.

“Many people may find it alarming that physicians could be basing treatment decisions on resources that could be unfettered or low quality,” said Linda Peitzman, chief medical officer, Wolters Kluwer Health, who acknowledged she was surprised by these findings. However, she said the survey did not require physicians to specify what resources were being accessed from these browsers – whether they were from reputable online medical journals – or other sources.

Peitzman said it would be interesting to do a follow-up survey that looked at this question more in-depth and says Wolters Kluwer Health is planning on making this study an ongoing one, possibly every other year.

The survey did find, however, that 42 percent of physicians frequently were accessing online free services like WebMD and to diagnose and treat patients and 34 percent of respondents cited occasionally using these resources.

The survey reported that the most common barrier to good doctor-patient communication was information overload, cited by 46 percent of physicians.

Peitzman said it is safe to assume that some of this information is coming from the Internet and noted that “just like the rest of us, physicians want to know where they can get good, quality, synthesized information.”

However, when  the survey examined respondents’ individual practices nearly nine in 10 physicians said they believed that improved access to online medical information and resources has improved the quality of care at their own practice or organization. Just 12 percent said they think it has impeded the quality of care they deliver.

All in all, the survey found the majority of physicians, 53 percent, believe that easier access to more medical knowledge by patients has had a positive impact on the doctor-patient relationship, leading to more informed discussions with patients. Only one in five believe it has been detrimental, leading to misinformation and incorrect self-diagnosis.

“The healthcare industry has undergone much growth and change over the past two years, and one of the biggest changes has been easier access to more medical information for both clinicians and patients alike,” said Peitzman. “With the proliferation of information available, what’s critical is ensuring that physicians have access to evidence-based information that not only delivers information based on research and proven techniques but also delivers it in the context that helps physicians make informed decisions at the point of care with patients.”

The survey also explored physicians’ views on meaningful use. Findings show that less than half of physicians, 44 percent, reported they believe the industry has successfully defined meaningful use.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • Half of physicians report their practice has embraced technology and clinical decision support tools adoption, yet another 44 percent feel they still have a long way to go in this area
  • Top barriers to technology adoption include: too expensive (40 percent); too much data and not enough actionable information (32 percent); too hard to learn/takes too much time to learn (27 percent); too hard to use at the point of care (24 percent)

For more information on the survey and to download an executive summary, visit here.

The Wolters Kluwer Health Point-of-Care survey was a blind, in-depth phone survey conducted by IPSOS of more than 300 physicians in the United States from a national sample of qualified AMA members. Respondents were nearly evenly split between primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists. The specialist category included the following specialty areas: anesthesiology; cardiology; emergency medicine; gastroenterology; neurology; nephrology; obstetrics/gynecology; oncology; orthopedics; and radiology. Interviews were conducted in August 2011.