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Patients who email doctor report better health, survey shows

A third of patients with chronic conditions who had emailed with their doctor reported better health

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A third of patients with chronic conditions who exchanged secure emails with their doctors reported that these communications improved their overall health, according to a Kaiser Permanente study* published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

The study is among the first to examine how the ability to send secure emails to doctors affects patient behaviour, preferences and perceptions about their own health care.

Researchers surveyed 1,041 Kaiser Permanente patients in Northern California who had chronic conditions such as asthma, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes or hypertension. Survey participants included patients who had used Kaiser Permanente's online patient portal, My Health Manager, to send secure email messages, as well as patients who had not sent any messages. Surveys were completed in 2011 by mail, online or by telephone interview to ensure that access to technology would not affect response rates.

My Health Manager provides patients with online access to their health records, an appointment booking facility, repeat prescriptions and the opportunity to send secure email messages to their health care providers. Emails are usually answered within 24 hours.

The survey found that virtually all patients with chronic conditions thought that exchanging email with their health care provider either improved (32%) or did not change their overall health (67%).

Mary Reed, staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California, said: "We found that a large proportion of patients used email as their first method of contacting health care providers across a variety of health-related concerns. As more patients gain access to online portal tools associated with electronic health records, emails between patients and providers may shift the way that health care is delivered and also impact efficiency, quality and health outcomes."

More than half of respondents (56%) had sent their provider an email within the previous year, and 46% used email as the first method of contact for one or more medical concerns. Of those patients who had emailed their health care provider, 42% reported that it reduced phone contacts and 36% said it reduced in-person visits.

* Reed M, et al. Patient-Initiated E-mails to Providers: Associations With Out-of-Pocket Visit Costs, and Impact on Care-Seeking and Health. Am J Manag Care. 2015;21(12):e632-e639

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