Medical Students Want You to Know

How many of us can remember a world without cell phones? Today’s medical students would undoubtedly be among that group. So it is no wonder these future physicians rely heavily on technology as they embark on their career path. We surveyed more than 1,000 medical students who are Epocrates subscribers about technology (software, hardware and EMRs) and other pressing industry topics.

The survey found 45% of respondents currently use an iPhone or iPod touch, followed by Palm and BlackBerry devices. Even prior to the launch of the iPhone, Apple has connected with this younger generation and continues to play to its strengths. Our survey did not address carrier preference, but it appears students may be more device focused; nearly 60% of non-smartphone users planning to purchase an iPhone within the next year. It is also worth noting that students may be looking at what device residents or attending physicians are using as well. In the first year of availability, over 100,000 physicians are actively using Epocrates software on an iPhone/iPod touch. We still see a significant number of physicians using BlackBerry and Palm devices, so we expect those respective populations to grow as well.

Students don’t get all of their advice from attending physicians. When asked in the survey, students confessed they are four times more likely to consult a mobile reference for a clinical question than ask their attending physician. They may be intimidated, or simply can’t find someone to ask. Above all, I believe it is speaking to the availability, convenience and quality of other trusted resources at their disposal. The vast majority – nearly 90% – of students surveyed view the information available through mobile or online drug and disease references, such as Epocrates, as highly credible, second only to medical journals.

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This is the 4th year we have conducted the “Future Physicians of America” survey and annually ask participants to rate their medical school experience, critiquing factors such as clinical training and quality of education. This year, schools saw the greatest improvement in the area of the integration of medicine and technology. Students graded this topic with an “A-,” up from a “B” in 2008 and “B-” in 2007. Schools are probably recognizing that more and more students entering their programs have some type of technology in their life (computer, mobile device, etc.) and in most cases are expecting to be able to use it. As a result, many schools are finding they can enhance students’ learning by leveraging these technologies and integrating them into the curriculum. A significant number of schools have added mobile device requirements for 3rd and 4th year students. I’d say this is a testament to the new learning environment along with the availability and accessibility of mobile devices. The technology has improved, the price point has come down and it is much more accepted by clinicians and patients alike. You can also point to external pressures that have been arising over the past year for the healthcare industry to increase its reliance on information technology.

Also of note, students are gaining more experience with electronic medical records in training. In fact, 80% reported using an EMR system during their clinical rotations, and 90% said the use of an EMR will be an important factor in choosing where to practice medicine.

Along the same lines, students have strong opinions on the state of the U.S. healthcare system. Only 28% gave it high marks (3% “A,” 25 % a “B”) and more than 70% assigned a “C” grade or lower. This is a significant decrease since students first graded the system in 2006 with 42% assigning a “B” for a good healthcare system. This is not surprising given the current debates concerning healthcare reform and the increasing number of uninsured patients in America. Students reported feeling concerned about the viability of the current system as well as skeptical of the government’s involvement and concerned about the future impact on their careers.

Bottom line, these future physicians are passionate about their career choice. Over 80% of those surveyed would still choose a career in medicine if they had to do it again. They are excited to help make a difference in the world and are excited about the benefits in patient care and efficiency that technology can provide to the health care system.

Survey overview: More than 40% of the nation’s students use Epocrates popular mobile medical reference, in training and beyond. The Future Physicians of America survey is the largest survey of medical students using Epocrates software, more than 90% of whom will be practicing physicians in less than two years.

Michelle Snyder is Senior Vice President, Subscriber Business at Epocrates.  Michelle has driven various marketing, strategic partnership and sales efforts at Epocrates since the company’s first product launch in 1999. She currently oversees the Subscriber Business Unit and is responsible for all sales, marketing and product activities that drive clinician network growth and individual/institutional subscription sales. Prior to joining Epocrates, Michelle was a senior manager at the Wilkerson Group (TWG)/IBM, a health care strategy consulting firm focusing on pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, payor/provider and early stage technology companies. Prior to TWG, Michelle worked in the health care policy field as a consultant with The Lewin Group and as a researcher with the Center for Health Policy Studies, Georgetown University.

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