April 15, 2010
When looking at the physician community, the question is no longer, “PC or Mac?” Instead it is, “Blackberry or iPhone?” As physicians have reached the internet saturation point, questions regarding general usage of this pathway have taken a backseat to more in-depth probing. This year Manhattan Research’s "Taking the Pulse v10.0" research study looks to answer the more relevant questions regarding the sophistication of physicians’ Internet usage and technology profiles, as well as the degree to which this is impacting their medical practices. This is investigated on a clinical level, colleague to colleague level, and from an administrative perspective.
One of the most remarkable findings from this year’s research is the impact smartphones are having on the way medicine is practiced in the United States. Physicians’ increased reliance on mobile content allows for expanded access to resources throughout the day. A majority of physicians have reported that this in turn leads to a higher level of efficiency and a more up-to-date physician community with regard to medical information. The Websites most accessed during physician-patient consultations include drug reference databases, online journals, and disease associations and support groups for patients.
Smartphone adoption has not yet reached saturation, as uptake is projected to grow to 81% of physicians by 2012. Additionally, while physicians are currently using these devices for content and reference, we are just beginning to see some of the possibilities for these devices as an integrated part of the treatment process. Some hospitals today are already integrating patient records, allowing physicians to sign off on an order and transmit prescriptions all through their mobile device. In the coming years it will be commonplace for physicians to have access to a patient’s full record, all in the pocket of their lab coat.
This mobile growth translates into physicians not only utilizing mobile apps, but also mobile Websites as information gateways. Many pharmaceutical sites, particularly those that target the physician community, are already optimizing for mobile access. Physicians are relying heavily on their mobile devices to access content while completing their clinical duties during the day, making it a necessary consideration for sites designed to be an information resource to physicians.
Point-of-care is also seeing a shift in patient-physician interaction due to Internet saturation among the physician community. With a growing number of physicians going online during patient consultations, and the overwhelming majority of this group doing so via a smartphone, it is evident that this device is affecting medicine even at the physician-patient level.
Another way digital content is influencing the point of care is in patients bringing information into the practice to discuss with the physician. More patients are bringing health information from the Internet to physician office visits than ever before, and more than half of physicians believe this research leads to a better-informed patient. Furthermore, more than a third of physicians agree that patient research leads to better physician treatment decisions.
Physician-patient online interactions also continue to increase as the Internet has become mainstream in the medical community. Close to half of physicians are now communicating with their patients online. While e-mail is the method of communication most utilized for physician-patient communication, text messaging and secure online messaging are employed as well. With physician-patient online interactions rising, it is important to keep in mind that many of these interactions will be occurring on mobile devices in the coming years, as smartphone growth continues in the physician community.
While many marketers are devoting substantial resources to understand consumer use of social media for health information, it is important to note that physicians are avid consumers of user-generated content online. In fact, two-thirds of physicians say they rely on user-generated content from blogs, message boards, article comments, and communities as a professional resource. While sectors such as printed references struggle to maintain their level of usage, user-generated content has seen dramatic increases in overall use and frequency of use. The impact of this material is notable in the physician community, as nearly half of physicians say they are influenced by user-generated content they consider to be reputable. Physician-only communities have created considerable buzz in recent years; however, physicians are still most likely to access social content in an open forum.
Considering that physicians have become much more digitally advanced than their consumer counterparts and are more likely to have higher expectations for online user experiences, marketers need to update marketing plans to take into account physicians’ evolving digital preferences and behaviors.
James Avallone is senior digital healthcare analyst for Manhattan Research.
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