Ninety percent of adults who are online want some form of electronic communication with their doctors, according to US market researchers, Harris Interactive.

A recent poll of just over 2000 people found that, of the 66% of respondents able to access an online connection, 77% wanted to ask questions when a visit to the doctor’s surgery was not necessary, 71% wanted to fix appointments, 71% wanted to be able to renew prescriptions and 70% wanted to receive test results. Overall, only 6% said they wanted none of these services and 4% recorded a "don’t know" response.

More than a third (37%) of the “online” respondents said that they would be willing to pay for the facility to communicate electronically with their doctors with willingness to pay for online access increasing according to the respondents’ affluence. On average, they indicated they would be willing to pay $10 as a fixed monthly fee or $7 per e-mail.

Most (56%) said that they would be influenced in their choice of doctors and health plans if some made online communications possible and others did not. One in seven say that their choice would be influenced “a great deal”.

As Harris Interactive points out, the findings are at odds with doctors’ attitudes: previous market research has revealed the profession’s marked reluctance to communicate with patients online. Doctors cite reimbursements, privacy of patient and potential malpractice liability as reasons for concern.

Harris Interactive speculates that this situation will change. “When so many people want something, the system (or the marketplace) will eventually provide it. It seems safe to predict that within a fairly short space of time many doctors will be communicating with their patients on the Internet.

”This will happen because some doctors and health plans will use this as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Some doctors will embrace this as an opportunity to grow their practices. Some health plans will require, or incent, physicians to be accessible online. It is only a question of how quickly this will happen."