Objective: To describe how general practitioners use computers for clinical purposes.
Design: Mail survey of a cross-sectional national stratified random sample of 3000 GPs in primary care settings between 10 October and 31 December 2005.
Main outcome measures: Use of computers, and use of computerised clinical functions such as prescribing, medication checking, generating health summaries, running recall systems, and writing progress notes.
Results: Of 1186 GPs responding (39.5% response rate), 90% used a clinical software package. GPs used clinical packages for prescribing (98%), checking for drug-drug interactions (88%), recording a reason for prescribing (65%), to order laboratory tests (85%), run recall systems (78%), and record progress notes (64%). Less frequently used functions included generating lists of patients needing vaccines (43%) and taking the same medication (39%). Less than 20% of GPs who used a clinical package accessed computerised information during the consultation.
Conclusions: Australian general practice has achieved near-universal clinical computerisation. Electronic prescribing alone has probably improved efficiency and quality of care, and reduced medication errors. Increasing the use of other functions, such as accessing online decision support and maintaining registries of patients, is likely to lead to further health gains, especially in managing chronic conditions.