Patient-physician emails improve care quality, Kaiser Permanente study says

Almost half of the respondents used email to contact their providers about test results, while 40 percent were looking for information on medication
By Jessica Davis
09:15 AM
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One-third of chronic condition patients who exchanged emails with their care providers said the communication improved their care, a recent Kaiser Permanente study published in The American Journal of Managed Care shows.

The study is touted as the first to research the way patient-physician emails affect patient preferences, behavior and perceptions of their care. More than 1,000 Kaiser Permanente chronic condition patients who used its My Health Manager patient portal were surveyed.

"We found a large proportion of patients used email as their first method of contacting healthcare providers across a variety of health-related concerns," said Mary E. Reed, staff scientist at Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research and lead author of the study, in a statement.

[See also: Engaging patients to self empower.]

"As more patients gain access to online portal tools associated with electronic health records, emails between patients and providers may shift the way healthcare is delivered and also impact efficiency, quality and health outcomes," she added.

The report revealed patients with higher out-of-pocket copays were more likely to use email as the first method of contact with a provider when there was a health concern. And one-third of patients surveyed said it reduced visits to the office and phone contact.

Almost half of the respondents used email to contact their providers about medical test results, while 40 percent were looking for information on new medication. And almost three-quarters of providers responded to these requests within 24 hours.

[See also: Mobile apps helping reduce readmissions.]

The overwhelming majority of patient respondents, about 93 percent, used email for contacting their primary care physician, while 34.4 percent used email for their specialists.

Eighty-five to 91 percent of respondents who use email as the first point of contact said they'd use the phone to contact their providers if email wasn't available.

"It's unclear how these broad changes in electronic data and communication access will change patient care-seeking behavior and outcomes," the study's authors wrote.

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"Our study finding of high rates of use of electronic messaging as the first method of contact for a range of health-related questions will likely become increasingly widespread as more patients and clinicians gain access to, and begin using, these tools regularly," they added.

The Institute of Medicine has proposed the use of patient portals to decrease medical errors and increase the quality of patient care. And while many U.S. adults find value in Web-based access, only about a quarter of patients have been offered the platform, according to the report.

Twitter: @JessiefDavis