Physicians Slow to E-Mail Routinely with Patients

Only 6.7 percent of office-based doctors routinely e-mailed patients in 2008, despite indications that many patients want to e-mail their physicians and that e-mailing might foster better communication between patients and doctors. The finding comes from a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-supported survey and accompanying issue brief from the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

The issue brief highlights that only 34 percent of office-based physicians have the capability to e-mail patients. Of those, fewer than one in five regularly e-mail their patients. Physicians pointed to increased workloads without increased reimbursement, concerns about liability and privacy and uncertainty about the impact on quality of care as contributing to their reluctance to e-mail. Physicians in practices that use electronic medical records—and those working in health maintenance organizations (HMOs) or medical schools—were more likely to e-mail with patients, but even among the highest users, only 50 percent reported routinely e-mailing patients.

The authors note that federal policy efforts may spur physicians to increase their frequency of e-mailing with patients, but also suggest that more research is needed on the benefits of increased e-mail communications. If the results are promising, they conclude that expanding support and/or reimbursement to encourage e-mail communication between physicians and patients could be a worthwhile investment.