Background: While computers are now widely used by family physicians for billing and patient registration purposes, their use as decision-support tools is still quite limited. The purpose of this study was to determine the current use of computer hardware and software by family physicians, and the characteristics these physicians desire in computerized decision-support hardware and software.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of a random sample of 250 Michigan family physicians was undertaken in mid-1995. These physicians were asked about their current use of a variety of computer hardware and software. They were also asked to rate the value of different kinds of decision-support information potentially available by computer. The survey instrument also gathered the family physicians' preferences for design factors (both hardware and software), such as the size of a computer, the time needed to access information, and the frequency of updates.
Results: Word processing on desktop computers and hospital information systems are the most widely used computer applications by family physicians. Physicians are most interested in computer-based information on drugs, storage and generation of patient education materials, and accessing treatment recommendations. Most feel that semiannual or annual updates of information are adequate, and would like a uniform interface. A high percentage of physicians (84.5% of all physicians and 94.1% of younger physicians) stated that they would consider carrying a handheld computer.
Conclusions: There is significant interest in several types of clinical decision-support software. Based on the results of this study, such software should have following characteristics: (1) be available for handheld as well as networked and desktop computers, (2) include drug information (particularly warnings, interactions, and side effects), (3) include overviews of treatment recommendations, (4) include patient education materials, and (5) have a uniform user interface and be updated at least annually.