Feedback from physicians was generally positive, according to the study’s authors. “Many physicians perceive that the use of e-mail increases their efficiency and improves the care they provide. The top five reasons that patients e-mail their physicians, according to Kaiser, are a change in health condition, to check lab results, to report a new condition, to check on drug doses, and to inquire about a new drug.
In addition, physicians looking to get stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for meaningful use of electronic medical records must incorporate secure patient-physician messaging into their EHRs.
Kaiser is, of course, a leader in electronic communications. Through its online portal, patients can access lab results, pharmacy records, prescription refill information, self-care instructions, and online educational materials. The organization, frankly, has resources that the average physician does not. E-mail communication is still not reimbursed, and face-to-face visits are still the standard of care for quality measures such as HEDIS. Further, even when free online communication resources are available, they are not used by certain populations, including those who are underserved.
Surely, though, the healthcare industry can figure out a way to solve these problems or simply agree that they are not enough to provide a service that the public clearly wants, that improves quality of care, and in fact saves physicians time and reduces healthcare costs. Physicians don’t get paid to return phone calls, either, for example, but most still call their patients when warranted. It’s time for physicians to overcome their resistance to online messaging. And if they don’t? I say we take away their smart phones and see how they like being disconnected from their own worlds.
Data-loving physicians can read the full study, Improved Quality at Kaiser Permanente Through E-mail Between Physicians and Patients, in the July issue of Health Affairs (subscription required).