When Merck Inc. opened its merckmedicus.com Web site in June, it enlisted Harris Interactive, a market research firm, to survey 101 physicians about their use of Web sites in general and to compare the Merck site to other sites. Unsurprisingly, the physicians gave merckmedicus.com high marks, and Merck released findings from the study in August to promote the site. But some of the top-line study results are worth remembering.

The first finding is that physicians generally still have a low opinion of physician-oriented Web offerings (meaning sites that don't necessarily offer CME).

  • While 78 percent of respondents said that the availability of accurate, credible information was extremely important, only 12 percent thought current online offerings in general were “excellent” by this measure.

  • The second finding is that while 58 percent of respondents said ease of navigation is extremely important in their assessment of a physician Web site, only 37 percent thought the average Web site met this description. This finding is important in terms of use — the reason most often cited by respondents for not using the Internet as much as they would like is problems with site navigation.

On the Other Hand: Docs Give I.C. Axon a Thumbs-Up

If physicians are generally dissatisfied with physician-oriented Web sites, they are very happy — and report better learning experiences — when they do find a site with accurate, credible information that is easy to navigate.

That's the finding of a study by Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland, Calif.-based HMO, and I.C. Axon, a provider of online learning services.

This study, conducted in December 2000 and January 2001 by I.C. Axon and Kaiser Permanente, with assistance from PricewaterhouseCoopers, used 81 physicians and one nurse on the Permanente Medical Group staff. After considering the negative findings of the Merck survey, the Kaiser numbers seem almost unbelievable:

  • According to this study, 70 percent of respondents felt that the e-CME courses they took using the I.C. Axon system motivated them to make adjustments in patient treatment;

  • 69 percent said it motivated changes in patient evaluation; and

  • 67 percent said it motivated adjustments in patient diagnosis.

  • A positively shocking 77 percent of respondents said e-CME increased their medical knowledge.

  • Asked whether they thought that Internet/online learning programs were useful in enhancing their clinical practice, 88 percent said they did.

Bottom line: When done well, e-CME is seen positively by doctors; when poorly presented, it is not.

Consider the VCampus

CME providers who are concerned that their in-house Web design and production capacities might not be good enough to compete in the rough-and-tumble world that online CME has become might want to consider the experience of the University of Texas system and the American Diabetes Association, both of which have contracts with a company called VCampus Corp.

The Reston, Va.-based firm offers everything but the content. Using proprietary Web architecture, VCampus offers a system that comes complete with enrollment, registration, testing, grading, and reporting services for what it calls a “distributed learning program.”

According to Rick Johnston, national vice president of constituent relations for the ADA, training on the VCampus Courseware Construction Set is intensive but quick, and the company's ability to handle “all the hosting and management of the site with no IT staffing requirements on our end” is a major plus for headcount-driven organizations.

Dave's Picks

Are you taking advantage of Flash 5 at your Web site? This new, powerful graphics-audio-animation tool is rapidly expanding the limits of the screen as a presentation vehicle. Here are some Flash 5-powered design sites to share with your Web designers. Careful, they're addictive:



And, for a healthy list of Flash-related links: