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Deloitte: Physicians slow to embrace Internet tools, social media Posted: March 27th, 2012

By Maryalene LaPonsie

Many physicians may be falling behind in their quest to meet a government standard that is part of federal health care reform, according to an issue brief from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

The brief questions whether physicians will be able to meet federal standards for "meaningful use" of electronic health records by 2013.

While nearly two-thirds of physicians are using some form of electronic records, only about one-quarter say they are on target to meet government expectations.

In addition, the Deloitte study found physicians have been slow to use Internet tools such as online scheduling or social media. Only 54 percent of physicians say they are using these and similar online services to communicate with their patients.

Medical insurance reform and electronic records

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes incentives for physicians who "make meaningful" use of certified electronic health records. Those who do will be eligible for incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid in 2013.

However, most physicians surveyed for the Deloitte study indicate they may have difficulty meeting the 2013 deadline. Only about one in four physicians say they are on track to meet the meaningful use criteria while 23 percent are unfamiliar with the government requirements.

Physicians also question whether electronic records will have an impact on patient diagnosis and treatment plans. Although supporters of the records argue they will help coordinate care and improve outcomes for patients, physicians do not seem so sure. More than 60 percent report electronic records have not improved the accuracy of patient diagnosis or treatment planning.

Still, survey respondents overwhelmingly agree that electronic health records have some value, with 84 percent saying they improve quality and 79 percent saying they are important to managing patient care.

Internet tools an untapped resource

While the Internet offers opportunities to connect with patients and share information quickly, the Deloitte study found the majority of physicians do not offer online services in their practice. Overall, 46 percent say they use Internet tools in patient care.

According to the study, less than one-quarter of physicians use the following Internet tools and services:

  • Secure messaging to communicate with patients: 24 percent
  • Website to allow online scheduling or download of test results: 20 percent
  • Website to allow prescription refill requests: 18 percent
  • Social network sites for communicating with patients: 6 percent

Physicians in large practices of 10 or more providers tend to make most use of Internet tools. However, even in these groups, 35 percent of physicians report offering no online patient care services. The Deloitte study notes there is an opportunity for all physicians to make better use of current technology to engage with their patients.