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Doctors shun Web as business tool

Physicians increasingly use e-mail and do research online, but few use the Web to run their practices, according to the American Medical Association.

Physicians are increasingly using e-mail for personal communications and turning online to do research, but few are using the Web to run their medical practices, according to a study by the American Medical Association.

The survey found that only 17 percent are turning to the Web to obtain or transfer medical records, and only 8 percent use it for processing health-insurance claims. Only 13 percent use the Web for obtaining insurance and managed-care information, the study found.

The results may go some distance toward explaining why companies such as WebMD and Medicalogic/Medscape--which offer Web-based services that link physicians to patients, insurance companies and hospitals--face a tough time gaining acceptance in a doctor's daily professional life. Those companies also have been buffeted by the general downdraft of Internet stocks.

The prognosis isn't entirely bleak, however. The study suggests that a newer generation of physicians may be more inclined to turn to the Web.

Computer use among the sampled physicians decreases as their age increases, the report found. Nine out of 10 physicians who are 40 years of age or younger use computers, compared with about seven out of 10 who are aged 50 to 59. And as computer usage increases, there is a corresponding jump in Internet usage.

That acceptance of computers, along with increasing confidence in the privacy of personal information on the Web, could mean a growth in the number of doctors using Web-based medical services. Privacy has been the biggest stumbling block to the growth of the Web as a medical tool.

While 30 percent of the physicians surveyed anticipated developing a Web site within the next 12 months, a large majority--70 percent--never intend to build a Web site.

The survey did find that more doctors are using the Web in certain areas. For instance, among the physicians who plan to develop a Web site in the next 12 months, about one-third said their primary reasons are to advertise and promote their practice; 27 percent said they will use their site to provide patient education and information; 26 percent said they will communicate with their patients; and 12 percent said they will use their Web site as a reference for other physicians.

The study found that 25 percent of physicians online use e-mail to communicate with their patients. This was the first year it measured the use of the Internet to communicate with patients.

The survey was conducted over a three-month period last year and included 1,001 physicians who were interviewed by phone.

News.com's Sandeep Junnarkar contributed to this report.

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