Merck Survey: 4 out of 5 doctors say mobile technology is changing the office visit

By Heather Mack
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As the focus in healthcare continues to shift towards efficiency and value, doctors say they consider themselves well-equipped to keep up with demands thanks to digital technology and information tools, according to a new survey by Merck Manuals.

In a small survey of 220 physicians conducted at a medical conference, most said smartphones in their offices (both their own and their patients’) has changed the nature of the visit. Of those surveyed, 81 percent agreed that the availability of medical information on mobile devices has shifted the doctor office dynamic in a number of ways.

First, physicians are ready for this: Nearly 75 percent said they consider themselves to be tech savvy, and are increasingly relying on mobile technology to keep up with demands for time and patient interaction. Of that group, two out of three doctors reported using a mobile device to access medical information in a professional setting more than 10 times in a day.

What are they doing on these apps? Of those who reported using a mobile device at work, 80 percent said they used the information found on apps and online information databases to inform their diagnosis or treatment plans for patients. Two-thirds are using mobile devices to catch up on medical news.

Merck recently re-launched app versions of its entire Merck Manuals reference guide, which is available in versions both for medical professionals and consumers.

"Physicians are becoming increasingly reliant on mobile technology to access relevant medical information when they need it most. That's why it was so important to us to launch our longstanding medical resources as free mobile apps for consumers and professionals this year," Merck Manuals Editor in Chief Dr. Robert S. Porter said in a statement. "Physicians can access thousands of medical topics, videos, images and other resources on the professional app and can direct their patients to the consumer app for trusted medical information."

As Porter indicated, mobile apps are changing the relationship between doctors and patients. While actual doctor-patient interaction time is still short, the time they do spend together is becoming more meaningful and efficient because of mobile devices. More than half of physicians surveyed said they are more likely to review medical information together, with their patients, and 29 percent of physicians said appointments are more efficient because of mobile medical information. About 60 percent of doctors are using mobile information to explain and further illustrate information to patients, and 28 percent said they send information directly to patients.

Of course, not all information is necessarily helpful: while 34 percent of physicians said patients are more informed and prepared, another third of physicians said patients arrive misinformed. This creates an opportunity for doctors and patients to have more interaction, Porter said.

"Mobile technology is not meant to replace the patient/doctor relationship," he said in a statement. "In fact, it can enhance the office visit by allowing them to review information together, as our survey found."