European hospitals are quite well-equipped with basic information and communication technologies compared to nine other key sectors in the economy according to a new survey, European e-Business W@tch 2006.

The 10-sector survey by research firm Empirica, which is due to be published in full at the end of the year, looked at 834 acute hospitals in 18 European countries including the UK.

After outlining headline findings at World of Health IT in Geneva this week, researcher Dr Stephan Lilischkis concluded: “Hospitals are quite well-equipped with basic ICT compared with other sectors, but there is scope for improvement and they are investing.

“They are strong on online procurement but relatively weak on patient facing ICT.”

Overall the hospitals came second out of the 10 sectors, contradicting the common perception that healthcare is a relatively slow adopter of information technology.

However, Dr Lilischkis cautioned that the other sectors surveyed had more small organisations with fewer than 250 employees. If the survey had looked at large organisations only, the hospital sector would have achieved only a middling rank.

In detail, the survey found almost all hospitals (98%) had internet access and just over a third (34%) offered remote access. In 2005 79% of hospitals had made ICT investments compared to an average of 50% of organisations in the whole survey. Furthermore, 34% of hospitals declared an intention to increase their ICT budgets compared to 25% overall.

Looking at e-procurement, the survey found 67% of hospitals said they placed orders online compared to a 48% average across the 10 sectors.

However only 10% of hospitals offered e-booking compared with a 25% average across all sectors and while 18% on average used customer relationship management systems (CRM) only 12% of hospitals had adopted this software.

Hospitals were more likely to complain about costs with 57% saying technology was ‘too expensive’ compared to 38% overall.

The increasingly competitive nature of healthcare was reflected in 40% of hospitals citing use by competitors as a driver for their adoption of e-business. Dr Lilischkis said he found the figure “astonishingly high”, though still lower than the 58% average across the 10 sectors.