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Survey: Doctors’ Websites of Little Use to Patients

February 4, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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On the heels of a Jan. 15 report by Pew Research Center revealing that 35 percent of Americans use the internet to figure out a medical condition, an independent survey conducted by medical marketing firm Vanguard Communications found that only one-third of physicians in three American cities offer direct website help to healthcare consumers trying to understand their symptoms.

While an analysis of 300 doctors with the highest patient-satisfaction ratings in Boston, Denver and Portland, Ore. found that 69 percent of the physicians have websites, only 33 percent of those doctors’ sites provided much more than online biographies and general practice information. Just 99 of the doctors surveyed have websites offering patient-centered information on medical conditions and possible treatments.

The portion of physicians using their websites to update patients on research and trends that could affect their health was even smaller—only four percent (12 doctors) had made at least one blog posting in the last year.

“Doctors in these cities are still using their websites primarily as electronic brochures about their practices rather than as online health resources,” Ron Harman King, Vanguard CEO, said in a statement.

King noted that doctors have no legal or ethical obligation to do any more, especially with online health encyclopedias abound on the internet. Nonetheless, offering more health information online could create a win-win for providers.

“In 14 years of helping doctors find new patients, our foremost conclusion is that patients look for healthcare information first and healthcare providers second,” King said. “Any doctor offering online health education engenders public trust, attracts a better informed patient and grows his practice.”

Vanguard’s analysis spanned three medical specialties: urologists, orthopedic surgeons, and obstetricians-gynecologists. To select the physician sample, the firm chose doctors with the highest patient-satisfaction ratings on HealthGrades.com, an Internet company that provides quality and safety ratings of health providers. All 300 physicians had “100-percent patient satisfaction” ratings.

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