86% of physicians use Internet to access health information

Most primary care doctors, 65%, search the Web more than once a day. Physicians say the information available has made their jobs easier.

By — Posted Jan. 4, 2010

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For a large majority of physicians, the Internet has become a critical component of how they seek out medical information, according to a study commissioned by Google.

The survey, released in November 2009, found 86% of U.S. physicians use the Internet to gather health, medical or prescription drug information.

That number echoes other surveys showing large numbers of physicians relying on the Internet for health information. A study earlier in 2009 by Manhattan Research put the number at 89%.

Of physicians who use the Internet for health information, 92% said they accessed it from their office, while 21% said they did so with a patient in the examination room. Meanwhile, 88% said they looked for health information online from home, while 59% reported doing so from a mobile device. Physicians who responded to the survey could give more than one answer about their Internet use.

Seventy-one percent said they start their research with a search engine, 92% of those using Google.

The survey reported that 58% of doctors search more than once per day -- including 65% of primary care physicians.

Of physicians who start with a search engine, 57% use terms related to conditions, 36% use terms related to treatments and trials, and 33% look for branded medication.

While the most common action taken after an online search was to conduct further research (48%), about a third of the surveyed physicians said they had made a change to a patient's medication as a result of a search, or had initiated new treatment.

Eighty percent of the survey respondents, who were each given a research project to carry out while researchers mapped their online navigation, said relevancy was the most important factor when determining which Web site to visit.

However, consistent with other search engine research findings that users tend to click the most prominent links, 92% of physician searchers clicked on the links appearing at the top of the page, 46% clicked those in the middle of the page, and 24% clicked on those on the bottom. Also, 8% clicked on sponsored links.

A majority of physicians surveyed -- 64% -- conducted one search, while the rest conducted two or more.

There were no indications that doctors relied solely on the sites on which they clicked for any decision-making.

The online survey of 411 physicians was conducted between May 20 and June 8, 2009 by Hall & Partners, a brand and communications research firm. The doctors were a mix of primary care physicians, endocrinologists, cardiologists and psychiatrists.

The survey itself was geared to anyone who would market to physicians. Hall & Partners said that the results showed the importance of a marketing strategy known as search engine optimization -- the process of making sure a site shows up high on the first page of results after a user plugs in search terms related to it. Sites can do this by using what the marketing firm called a "robust" range of keywords -- terms that would be captured by search engines as a means to assign the most relevant results.

Hall & Partners also recommended that online health strategies also have a physician-specific component as a means to capture an audience that searches frequently and in short bursts.

According to the survey, most physician searches are done in three minutes or less.

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What doctors are looking for online

A recent study commissioned by Google surveyed 411 physicians and broke out what topics the doctors searched for online, and what they did after finding the information.

Search reason
Specific drug information 77%
General condition information 75%
Treatment side effects 68%
Drug safety information 66%
Information for patients 61%
New medications 64%
Contraindications 59%
Information to aid diagnosis 53%
Medication in development 45%
Clinical trial information 45%
Actions taken as result of search
Conduct further research 48%
Print out information or direct a patient to a Web site to learn more 45%
Recommend a patient change behavior or habits 38%
Recommend further tests based on symptoms 32%
Make a change in patient's medication 31%
Initiate new treatment 30%
Ask another colleague for his or her opinion 28%
Request more information about a product or medication 25%

Source: "Connecting with Physicians Online: Searching for Answers," Hall & Partners, August 2009 (link)

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Physicians say Internet makes work easier

Perceptions of the Internet vary based on search usage, a Google-commissioned survey of 411 physicians found. Yet even most of the non-searchers said the Internet made practicing medicine easier.

Opinion of the Internet Searchers who agree Non-searchers who agree Overall who agree
Quality of online information has improved over last few years 90% 79% 86%
I rely more on the Internet than in the past for clinical practice 87% 77% 83%
I use the Internet to verify information from a patient 84% 75% 80%
The Internet has made practicing medicine easier 81% 71% 78%

Source: "Connecting with Physicians Online: Searching for Answers," Hall & Partners, August 2009 (link)

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