E-Technology Usage

Tablets, Smart Phones and Apps, Oh My!


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We’re not surprised you’re reading this online. According to two new surveys, physicians are adopting e-technologies much faster than anticipated and are using on-line resources twice as much as print to make key clinical decisions.

According to findings from the new Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2012 study from healthcare market research and advisory firm Manhattan Research,[1] physicians’ device and digital media adoption are evolving much faster than anticipated, especially when it comes to tablets. The study surveyed 3,015 U.S. practicing physicians online in Q1 2012 across more than 25 specialties.

Key findings from the Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2012 include:

  • Tablets, mostly iPads, are mainstream. Physician tablet adoption for professional purposes almost doubled since 2011, reaching 62% in 2012, with the iPad being the dominant platform.      Furthermore, one-half of tablet-owning physicians have used their device at the point-of-care.
  • More screens, more access. Physicians with three screens (tablets, smartphones, and desktops/laptops) spend more time online on each device and go online more often during the workday than physicians with one or two screens.
  • Physician-only social networks stagnant. Adoption of physician-only social networks remained flat between 2011 and 2012. Additionally, the study found that physicians reach out more frequently to and are more influenced by colleagues they formed relationships with at school or at work than peers who they first connected with online.
  • Online video widely used. More than two-thirds of physicians use video to learn and keep up-to-date with clinical information.

A second survey cosponsored by Google Research[2] was also released in 2012, suggesting that physicians spend twice as much time making clinical decisions using online resources like professional websites and mobile apps compared to print. This online study of more than 500 practicing U.S. physicians found that print resources such as journals and reference materials were seen as too cumbersome.

“Online sources outweigh the print, it’s so much easier,” said one respondent. “You don’t need to have books and journals in front of you, you can find information on your iPhone or laptop or wherever you are. I can be in with a patient and can easily give the patient information or be able to explain things a little more easily.”

The study, Screen to Script—The Doctor’s Digital Path to Treatment, focused on trying to understand U.S. doctors’ digital adoption across devices and media channels and how this impacts patient treatment decisions. Unsurprisingly, given Google’s core online search business, the survey was particularly interested in the role played by doctors’ use of search engines. It found that search engines are used on a daily basis by 84% of respondents who made, on average, six professional searches per day.

Concluding that more doctors start with a search engine than any other online resource or website, the survey also revealed:

  • Physicians perform an average of 6 professional searches a day
  • 68% of physicians are prompted to use a search engine because a patient seeks more information during a consultation
  • 84% of physicians search on condition related keyword terms. Only 17% search on pharmaceutical manufacturer terms
  • One in three physicians click on sponsored listings

This is actually old news, though. A 2011 survey by Wolters Kluwer Health suggested that 46% of physicians ‘frequently’ use a general browser such as Google or Yahoo to help diagnose and treat patients and that another 32% use the Internet as an occasional resource.[3] Among respondents, 63% reported changing an initial diagnosis based on new information accessed via online resources/support tools.[3]

Research continues to suggest that the Internet really is a valuable diagnostic tool.

Clinicians can use browsers and search engines such as Google, Firefox, Bing, or WebMD to help them uncover a diagnosis for a difficult case. As described in the NewEngland Journal of Medicine,[4] a doctor astonished her colleaguesby correctly diagnosing IPEX(Immunodysregulation polyendocrinopathy enteropathy, X-linkedsyndrome), reporting that the diagnosis “popped right out”after she entered the salient features into Google. In another study, Australian doctors identified a number of difficult diagnostic cases previously published in the New England Journal of Medicine.[[5] The doctors, blinded to the correct diagnoses, selected three to five search terms from each case and did a Google search. They then selected and recorded the three diagnoses that were ranked most prominently by Google before comparing the results with the correct diagnoses as published in the journal. The Google searches yielded the correct diagnosis in 58% of the cases.

But you’re not the only ones searching the Internet for information. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Health Communication, almost 70% of the 505 people surveyed planned to ask their doctor questions about the information they found, and 40% had printed the information to take to the appointment.[6]

Although their efforts may seem tiresome, take their Internet searches seriously and don’t deride or denigrate their efforts. Informed patients are better patients. The desire to learn more about their condition is natural. When a patient quotes something that is clearly wrong, simply point out sound principles of medicine and why the information sounds off-base to you. Be respectful when a patient questions you regarding a test or treatment you have recommended.

While it’s easy to become dependent on your electronic ‘toys’ as your primary information source, remember that sometimes the power goes out. What will you do if your tablet breaks, or your smart phone goes in for service? Will you still be able to recall what you read last week, or to check drug interactions? It’s probably not a bad idea to surround yourself with back-up resources—like we did in the old days, a mere 10 years ago!


Jill Shuman, MS, ELS
Published on August 28, 2012



  1. Manhattan Research. Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2012. http://manhattanresearch.com/Images—Files/Infographics/Taking-the-Pulse-US-2012.aspx
  2. Google Research and Manhattan Research.  Screen to Script: The Doctors’ Digital Path to Treatment. July 2012. http://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/insights/library/studies/the-doctors-digital-path-to-treatment/
  3. Wolters Kluwer Health 2011 Point-of-Care survey.  How physicians get information to diagnose and treat patients.  Wolters Kluwers Health.  2011.  http://www.wolterskluwerhealth.com/News/Documents/White%20Papers/Wolters%20Kluwer%20Health%20Survey%20Executive%20Summary-Media.pdf
  4. Greenwald R. …And a diagnostic test was performed. N Engl J Med. 2005;359:2089-2090.
  5. Tang H, Ng JH.  Googling for a diagnosis—use of Google as a diagnostic aid: internet based study.  BMJ. 2006;333:1143-1145.
  6. Hu X, Bell RA, Kravitz RL, Orrange S.  The prepared patient: information seeking of online support group members before their medical appointments.  J Health Comm. 2012; May 10 [online before print].  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10810730.2011.650828