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  • Publication # 13-RA011

Safety-net patients are interested in using electronic communications with their health care providers

Disparities/Minority Health

A growing number of medical practices are using electronic communication tools such as the internet, Email, and text messaging to communicate with their patients. A majority of patients seen at resource-poor safety net clinics are also interested in using Email and patient portals to communicate with their medical providers, reveals a new study. However, this interest is currently unmet within safety-net clinics that do not offer patient portals or secure messaging. 

The study authors suggest that safety-net clinics invest in technologies that allow for robust communication between clinicians and patients, train patients not adept at using the technology, and find ways to tailor electronic health communication to patient language and literacy level. They surveyed a diverse group of patients from a large urban safety-net clinic network in San Francisco.

The survey asked the participants about current use of Email in everyday life (how often used, whose account was used), interest in communicating with health care providers via Email, and demographic characteristics (including native language and self-rated English proficiency). Photograph shows a man typing at a computer.

Overall, 60 percent of the participants used Email, and 71 percent were interested in communicating with their health care providers by Email. However, only 19 percent of those with Email accounts reported using Email for this purpose. Individuals who did not use or have access to Email were more likely to express lack of interest, while those with Email access were tenfold more likely to be interested in communicating with practitioners by Email. 

Interest in electronic communications with health care providers differed significantly by age, education, race/ethnicity, primary language, and English proficiency. However, among users of Email, none of the demographic factors showed significant differences in interest. 

The findings were based on the survey responses of 416 adult patients at 6 community clinics operated by the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The study was funded in part by AHRQ (HS17594). 

More details are in "Access, interest, and attitudes toward electronic communication for health care among patients in the medical safety net," by Adam Schickedanz, M.D., David Huang, M.D., Andrea Lopez, B.S., and others, in the July 2013 Journal of General Internal Medicine 28(7), pp. 914-920.


Page last reviewed August 2013
Internet Citation: Safety-net patients are interested in using electronic communications with their health care providers: Disparities/Minority Health. August 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


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