A new report by consultants Deloitte & Touche and Fulcrum Analytics says the adoption of new technology by US family doctors is slow and will remain incremental until technology and associated applications are integrated at the point of care and deliver economic benefits.

Less than a quarter of the 1,200 US physicians surveyed for the report currently believe that emerging information technologies are critical to their future success.

Despite the relatively low number of adopters, over 50% of physicians believe such technologies will ultimately have a major impact on their professional lives and the way they practice medicine.

‘Taking the Pulse: Physicians and Emerging Technologies’ points out that early predictions for the adoption of new technologies such as electronic medical records (EMRs) – have not been realised. Although adoption rates of 75% were predicted 15 years ago they are currently hovering around 12%.

"Emerging information technologies must pass a high hurdle before they are widely adopted by physicians," the report notes.

Crucially, information technology must offer significant improvements and value in comparison to today’s accepted technologies and tools, and offer physicians and their practices personal economic benefits.

"Until information technologies, such as e-prescribing tools, online EMRs or medical practice websites, truly improve productivity, enhance clinical quality and enable patient self-service the majority of physicians will stay on the sidelines and adoption will be slow," says the report.

Significantly the report concludes that there is no single "killer application", whose adoption will move physicians en masse to embrace new technology.

Mobile devices and applications, however, are identified as a major area for growth in which great strides are predicted.

Drawing an analogy with the development of the PC it argues that while today’s wireless and handheld devices have limited capabilities they will soon be superseded by much more powerful and useful devices.

"While handheld devices will never replace networked information systems at the practice and hospital level, they will deliver significant value extending the reach and access to remote data, and eventually, facilitating data entry," states the report.

The report also says that there is strong preference among physicians for basic functionality – technology to automate and integrate basic administrative and business functions. Only once these have been addressed can the healthcare industry move on to the next stage of advanced services and applications, such as e-care tools.

But given the slow pace of adoption of such basic administration tools in the US healthcare industry the report suggests that leading purchasers may intervene, faced with skyrocketing healthcare costs, and growing concerns about the number of medical errors that result in avoidable medical costs.

To speed up the adoption of new technology it also suggests that physicians be reimbursed or directly compensated through programmes such as Medicare.

"At the epicentre of the healthcare industry, physicians will have the ultimate say in how and when the information technology revolution plays out," says the report.

The challenge to IT vendors, concludes the report, is to deliver products that create real economic value for physicians and integrate seamlessly into the patient care process.