Can Email Improve Your Health?

A study released Monday by Kaiser Permanente reveals that secure email communications between patients and physicians can lead to improved health and health care efficiency. 

Some 32% of patients with chronic health conditions state that emailing their doctors has improved their overall health, while less than 1% said it made their health worse. 

The study polled more than 1,000 Kaiser patients in Northern California with chronic ailments such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension to investigate the impact that email communication had on physician phone calls, in-person visits and overall health.

Survey respondents were a mixed representation of patients who use Kaiser’s online patient communications portal, My Health Manager, and those who do not. Fifty-six percent of respondents polled had sent an email to their healthcare provider within the last year, while 46% clarified that they used email as their primary method of contact for at lease one medical concern. 

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The results were published today in the American Journal of Managed Care and revealed that the use of emails not only reduced patients’ needs for other types of healthcare assistance, but also reduced cost, limited follow-up doctor visits, and improved overall health.

"We found a large proportion of patients used email as their first method of contacting health care providers across a variety of health-related concerns," states the study’s lead author Mary Reed, DrPH and staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. "As more patients gain access to online portal tools associated with electronic health records, emails between patients and providers may shift the way health care is delivered and also impact efficiency, quality and health outcomes."

Some 42% of patients who had emailed their healthcare provider stated that this communication reduced phone calls and 36% stated that it reduced in-person doctor visits.

The study also revealed that patients were more likely to turn to email as a first method of contact if they had higher cost-sharing expenses. Eighty-five percent of patients with higher out-of-pocket costs chose email as a first method of contact compare to 63% of patients with copays of $60 or less per doctor’s visit.

The role of email in the medical industry, however, is not all positive. Healthcare lags behind only education as the worst industry for overall security, according to BitSight’s Third Annual Industry Benchmark Report.

HIPPA compliance is also a valid concern, as a recent Infinite Convergence Solutions study reports that 92% of healthcare institutions use online and mobile communication that does not comply with federal HIPPA regulations.

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