A new study shows many doctors are using the Internet for consultations and for storing medical data. E-prescribing has yet to catch on
European primary healthcare services are benefiting from broadband, says the European Commission, but there are still wide discrepancies in GPs' use of IT across Europe.
An EC e-health survey has found the vast majority (87 per cent) of European doctors use a computer—and almost half (48 per cent) have a broadband connection. The report—entitled Benchmarking ICT use among General Practitioners in Europe—said e-health applications have a growing role in GPs' surgeries, where they are helping to improve administrators' efficiency and cut waiting times for patients.
However, broadband provision differs widely across the Union—with Demark having the highest penetration of GPs using broadband (91 per cent) and Romania the lowest (around five per cent).
Approximately 70 per cent of European doctors use the internet and 66 per cent use computers for consultations, the survey found. Administrative patient data is stored electronically in 80 per cent of GP surgeries, while almost all (92 per cent) of these also electronically store medical data on diagnoses and medication. And more than a third (35 per cent) store radiological images in this way.
The survey also found GPs often transfer data electronically with laboratories (40 per cent)—but less to other health centres (10 per cent).
According to the survey, a majority of European doctors said IT improves the quality of healthcare services they provide. Those not using IT cite a lack of training and technical support as major barriers—requesting more IT in medical education, more training and better electronic networking among healthcare practitioners wanting to share clinical information.
E-health areas identified by the EC for improvement and further deployment include e-prescribing, practiced by just six per cent of GPs; the exchange of patient data across borders (currently done by just one per cent of GPs); and telemonitoring—or remote monitoring of patients—used in Iceland and the Netherlands (by around three per cent of doctors in each country), and Sweden (nine per cent).
According to the EC, the most tech-savvy countries are more likely to use IT for professional purposes. In Denmark, for instance—where high speed internet is the most widely available in Europe—the report found there is extensive use of email communication between doctors and patients in about 60 per cent of practices. The EU average is just four per cent.
Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for information society and media, said in a statement: "Europe is starting to reap the benefits of broadband connections in the e-health sector. I welcome the efforts made by healthcare administrations and doctors to work more efficiently. This diagnosis also shows that it is now time to use these electronic services much more widely as they have the potential to bring extraordinary benefits to all patients, all over Europe."