Patients are no-shows in cyberspace, too

August 23, 2006

Visits to physician websites, use of e-mail fall short of expectations

Visits to physician websites, use of e-mail fall short of expectations

A study from Forrester Research confirms what digital doctors have already experienced-lots of patients say they want to connect to you electronically, but they continue to use the telephone.

Forty-three percent of online consumers-defined as people who surf the web at least monthly-believe every doctor’s office should have a presence on the Internet, and 23 percent would like to consult with their physician by e-mail. Yet only 13 percent of online consumers had visited a physician website in the last 12 months, and only 6 percent had e-mailed their doctor, according to the Forrester study conducted in late 2005.

It’s not as if doctors have refused to lay out an electronic welcome mat. Some 45 percent of office-based physicians have a practice website. To boost the number of visitors, writes Forrester analyst Lynne Bishop, such websites must give patients online tools to do things like scheduling an appointment or requesting a prescription renewal. Merely stocking a website with patient education material isn’t enough of a draw.

Many doctors, however, still aren’t convinced that such communication channels will save them time and money. Another study conducted by Forrester and the American Medical Association earlier in 2005 revealed that two-thirds of doctors prefer to handle chores like prescription renewals and requests for referrals in person or on the phone as opposed to doing so online.