Internet Use on Rise Among Older Dermatologists

Bonnie Darves

March 09, 2006

March 8, 2006 (San Francisco) -- Middle-aged dermatologists and community-practicing physicians are increasing their use of online resources more rapidly than their younger or academic institution-based counterparts, according to a new study presented here at the 64th annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The study found that 68% of dermatologists who were confident in both the accuracy of the information they retrieved online and in their ability to navigate dermatology-related data on the Web were aged 45 years or older.

"Frankly, this was somewhat surprising -- that it was older dermatologists and community practice physicians who were both using the Internet more and were becoming more confident about the quality and accuracy of the resources they use," Vicki Carr, MD, the study's lead author, a researcher at the University of Texas-Galveston Branch, told Medscape. "The frequency of access in this population of dermatologists -- 51% of community-based dermatologists used the Internet more frequently than other sources for information compared to 29% of academicians -- was also a surprise."

The survey-based study was made up of 480 Texas dermatologists, more than half of whom (246) provided complete responses; 175 respondents were men, and 146 were older than 45 years. Dr. Carr conducted the study primarily out of curiosity, she noted, but also because her own experience has convinced her that dermatology -- with its obviously strong visual "underpinnings" -- is an ideal specialty to both promote and benefit from Internet use in communications and sharing of visual data such as photos of either vexing conditions or treatment successes.

"Dermatology truly lends itself to visuals, and the Internet is a great way to post photos and visual elements for others' viewing," Dr. Carr said. "I think it's clear that it [the Internet] will continue to change both how we learn medicine and how we practice it -- and how patients obtain information and medical students learn."

Dr. Carr found that 78% of all respondents used the Internet regularly in their professional lives and that 60% reported that the information they found was professionally useful. Databases were the most frequently accessed resources and discussion groups the least accessed, the survey found; however, academic dermatologists were more likely than their community-practice colleagues to access databases. On a weekly basis, 14% of respondents turned to online journals compared with 21% who accessed databases; only 4% of respondents logged on to engage in discussion groups or chat rooms, Dr. Carr noted.

However, of all available information resources, 51% of community-practice dermatologists reported using the Internet "most frequently" compared with 29% of academic physicians. And of the relatively small number of physicians who reported a lack of confidence in their ability to use the Internet to increase professional knowledge, 70% were older than 45 years. That suggests the very wide range of physician computer proficiency seen in other studies, Dr. Carr noted.

The key finding that might deter increasing use of online resources had to do with dermatologists' demanding professional lives. Of the respondents, 37% cited lack of time as the chief reason they do not use Internet-based resources more frequently.

AAD 64th Annual Meeting: Abstract 1311. Presented March 5, 2006.

Reviewed by Kristin Richardson

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