Online health management "will become the new house call," said Alden Solovy, executive editor of Hospitals & Health Networks, which just published its eighth annual list of the nations "most wired" hospitals.
Four-fifths of the "most wired" hospitals offer patients personal health records into which they can enter and manage their health information, said Solovy.
"Consumers are doing everything from booking travel to managing their finances from their living rooms. The most wired hospitals provide the same opportunities with health care."
According to the survey, 64 percent of the "most wired" hospitals provide online coaching to help patients lose weight, stop smoking and stay healthy. Only 3 percent of the least wired hospitals have such programs.
Less than a third of the "most wired" hospitals let patients check test results online (32 percent) or visit a physician virtually (22 percent).
Nonetheless, Solovy is upbeat about the level of Internet services offered to patients. "Its progress," he said. "This isnt doing a Google search, and it needs to be done well."
Clinicians at the "most wired" hospitals are also more likely to order medicines electronically and to store and retrieve medical information, including clinical images, electronically.
Those in green eyeshades are also coming into their own. An article accompanying the survey concluded that the "most wired" hospitals do a lot of self-assessment. "The underpinning of this new and evolving discipline is measurement," said Solovy.
Compared with other organizations, the "most wired" hospitals spend a lot more time evaluating their projects both before and after implementation.
They are also more likely to have and test business continuity plans, such as having systems to rapidly restore clinical information systems even if a primary data center is lost.
The typical "most wired" hospital implements rigorous evaluation plans for three-quarters of its top projects. These plans include determining when projects will be measured and when original objectives will be evaluated, plus establishing baseline metrics for financial, quality, safety or patient satisfaction.
However, one metric that the survey cant capture was how often hospital information technology saved lives.
In 2005, the survey results showed that risk-adjusted mortality rates at the "most wired" hospitals were 7 percent lower compared to other hospitals in the survey that didnt make the "most wired" cut.
In 2006, the "most wired" hospitals had average adjusted mortality rates that were just 1.6 percent lower. In 2005, the results were valid at the 99 percent confidence level, compared to the 90 percent level in 2006.
But Solovy said that the differences could not be taken too seriously because the number of hospitals represented in the "most wired" category decreased.
Both free-standing hospitals and health systems that include multiple hospitals submitted surveys.
The list of the 100 Most Wired Hospitals is based on the Most Wired Survey and Benchmarking Study, which is a joint project of Hospitals & Health Networks, IDX Systems and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.
This year, 541 surveys were submitted by hospitals and health systems representing 1,217 hospitals, which is about a fifth of U.S. hospitals.
However, hospitals participating in the survey are more likely to be large, urban and teaching hospitals.
The eight-page survey asks hospitals to report on their use of information technology for five purposes: safety and quality, customer service, business processes, workforce, and public health and safety.
Details of the survey are available here.