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Certain patients are more likely to e-mail their physicians

Research Activities, November 2009

Although not common, more and more physicians are giving out their e-mail addresses to patients in an attempt to communicate better and improve care. A new study has found certain patient characteristics associated with the use of secure electronic messaging. Researchers looked at the messaging behaviors of 175,909 individuals enrolled in an integrated delivery system in the State of Washington. Both patients and providers could send secure, electronic messages to each other via a Web site. Providers in the system were given incentives to engage in e-mail with patients as part of the system's redesign focused on patient-centered access to care. Patients were also encouraged to e-mail their providers. Among enrollees eligible to communicate in this fashion, 14 percent used the system to send out one or more messages to their primary care provider or a specialist during the study period (January 1, 2004 to March 31, 2005). Secure messaging accounted for 15 percent of all outpatient encounters for the 162 primary care providers who had eligible patients. Women were more likely than men to e-mail their providers.

Elderly patients and those insured by Medicaid were less likely to e-mail their provider, even when they had Internet access and registered on the Web site. Patients with higher overall levels of morbidity (coexisting illnesses) were the most active users of secure messaging; they were nearly six times more likely than other patients to e-mail their provider. Patients were also more likely to e-mail providers who had higher levels of messaging themselves (providers' use of e-mail ranged from 2.8 to 52 percent of outpatient encounters). These findings support the potential role of secure messaging in the patient-centered medical home, note the researchers. Their study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS14625). See “Patient use of secure electronic messaging within a shared medical record: A cross-sectional study,” by James D. Ralston, M.D., M.P.H., Carolyn M. Rutter, Ph.D., David Carrell, Ph.D., and others, in the Journal of General Internal Medicine 24(3), pp. 349-355, 2009.

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Page last reviewed November 2009
Internet Citation: Certain patients are more likely to e-mail their physicians: Research Activities, November 2009. November 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.