Study: Doctor, patient e-mailing improves patient outcomes

By Molly Merrill
09:54 AM

E-mail use between patients with diabetes and hypertension and their doctors resulted in improved quality of care scores, according to a study of patients in Kaiser Permanente's Southern California region.

The study, which was published in the July issue of Health Affairs, observed 35,423 patients with diabetes, hypertension, or both. Researchers found that the use of secure patient-physician messaging in any two-month period was associated with statistically significant improvements in HEDIS (Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set) care measurements. Results included 2 to 6.5 percentage point improvements in glycemic, cholesterol and blood pressure screening and control.

"Putting patients and their data at the center of care allows Kaiser Permanente to improve health care quality, access and cost," said George Halvorson, chairman and CEO, Kaiser Permanente. "This data proves that health IT can be a fundamental component of accomplishing those three critical goals."

More than 556,000 secure patient-physician e-mail threads, containing more than 630,000 messages, were logged throughout the study. Patients initiated 85 percent of those threads, which researchers say shows that health IT is empowering patients to better manage their healthcare. Kaiser Permanente's secure e-mail tool, called "E-mail my doctor," is one of the most popular features of the My Health Manager comprehensive personal health record, according to officials.

"Kaiser Permanente members using My Health Manager send more than 870,000 secure messages to their clinicians each month," said Terhilda Garrido, co-author of the study and vice president, health information technology transformation and analytics, Kaiser Permanente. "Physicians are using the tool to connect with their patients like never before, sending nearly 3.5 million messages to patients between January and April this year, and empowering them to take better care of themselves and manage their total health."

Researchers say this study is one of the first to show that these electronic communications have a measurable positive effect on patient outcomes, in addition to improving efficiency. Kaiser Permanente physicians participating in the study reported that the use of secure e-mail messaging has been highly successful for diabetes patients, enabling them to follow medical instructions to the letter.

"There are a lot of reasons that patients contact their care teams. It is important to keep the lines of communication open, while not inconveniencing patients by playing phone tag or bringing them into the office unnecessarily," said Michael Kanter, MD, co-author of the study and regional medical director of quality and clinical analysis, Southern California Permanente Medical Group. "We have always felt that use of secure e-mail messaging is a huge patient satisfier and an efficient way of handling many routine care issues. Now, with this study, we can also state that secure e-mail improves clinical outcomes for patients."