Shortly after Merck & Co. launched its new website for physicians, merckmedicus.com, the company hired Harris Interactive, a market research firm, to measure how well the site was going over with its target audience.

The survey polled 101 physicians across specialties to assess what attributes of a medical Internet site the physician respondents considered most important, how the physicians felt medical Web sites they have visited in the past fared on those key attributes and how merckmedicus.com, a new offering by Merck, met the same criteria.

The results of the survey, which were favorable to the Merck site, contained information of interest to all operators of physician-focused sites.

For example: The survey revealed that a majority of physicians still rate physician-focused Web sites as average or below in terms of ease of use and overall comprehensiveness. Physicians responding to the survey clearly indicated that they are not fully satisfied with medical information on the Internet, with only 12 percent stating that current offerings are ``excellent'' in terms of providing accurate and credible information that doctors can rely on.

Physician responses indicate that credible, accurate information and ease of navigation are the two most important characteristics of a physicianb-focused site, and that the absence of advertising enhances site credibility. Specifically:
78 percent of physicians said providing accurate, credible information is extremely important.
More than half (58 percent) of respondents said that ease of navigation is an extremely important characteristic of physician Web sites, yet only 37 percent gave the typical Web site a positive rating on this dimension.
One in two physicians (52 percent) said that poor performance in terms of ease of navigation keeps them from using the Internet as often as they would like in their practices.
60 percent of physicians said the absence of advertising on a medical Web site enhances the credibility of that site.