Many Patients Using E-Mail As First Method of Provider Contact

Online communications reduced need for phone calls and office visits for many

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TUESDAY, Jan. 5, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- For patients with chronic conditions, the ability to communicate with their doctor via e-mail may help improve their health, according to a study published online Dec. 21 in the American Journal of Managed Care.

The study included 1,041 patients in northern California diagnosed with conditions such as asthma, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, or hypertension. The patients had access to an online portal, which let them review their health records, make appointments, refill prescriptions, and send confidential e-mails to their doctor.

A survey found that 56 percent of the patients had sent their doctor an e-mail within the past year, and 46 percent had used e-mail as the primary way to contact their doctor about medical issues. Thirty-two percent of those who exchanged e-mails with their doctor reported improvements in their health. Meanwhile, 67 percent said e-mailing their doctor had no effect on their overall health. For 42 percent of the patients, using e-mail to communicate with their doctor reduced the number of phone calls they made to the office, and 36 percent said they made fewer office visits. Among those who used e-mail to communicate with their doctor, 85 percent had co-pays of $60 or more for each office visit, or high deductibles, compared to 63 percent with lower cost-sharing.

"We found that a large proportion of patients used e-mail as their first method of contacting health care providers across a variety of health-related concerns," lead author Mary Reed, Dr.P.H., said in a news release from Kaiser Permanente. Reed is a staff scientist with Kaiser Permanente's research division in Oakland, Calif. "As more patients gain access to online portal tools associated with electronic health records, e-mails between patients and providers may shift the way that health care is delivered and also impact efficiency, quality, and health outcomes," she added.

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