Exchanging emails with doctor may improve patient's health

Exchanging emails with doctor may improve patient's health

Exchanging emails with doctors may improve the overall health of patients suffering from chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension or diabetes, a new study suggests.

In the study, a third of patients with chronic conditions who exchanged emails with their doctors said that these communications improved their overall health.

"We found that a large proportion of patients used email as their first method of contacting health care providers across a variety of health-related concerns," said study lead author Mary E Reed, staff scientist with the US healthcare organisation Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research in California.

"As more patients gain access to online portal tools associated with electronic health records, emails between patients and providers may shift the way that health care is delivered and also impact efficiency, quality and health outcomes," Reed said.

The study is among the first to examine how the ability to send secure emails to doctors affects patient behaviour, preferences and perceptions about their own health care.

Researchers surveyed 1,041 patients who had chronic conditions such as asthma, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes or hypertension.

Survey participants included patients who had used an online patient portal, My Health Manager, to send secure email messages, as well as patients who had not sent any messages.

Surveys were completed in 2011 by mail, online or by telephone interview to ensure that access to technology would not affect response rates.

The researchers found that virtually all patients with chronic conditions said that exchanging email with their health care provider either improved (32 per cent) or did not change their overall health (67 per cent); less than 1 per cent said that emailing made their health worse.

More than half of respondents (56 per cent) had sent their provider an email within the previous year, and 46 per cent used email as the first method of contact for one or more medical concerns, the researchers said.

Among patients who had emailed their health care provider, 42 per cent reported that it reduced phone contacts and 36 per cent said it reduced in-person visits.

The study was published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

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