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TECHNOLOGY: Patient-Physician email–Is it or is it not a “good thing”?

Two studies from Oregon, one from Kaiser Northwest and the other from Regence (Oregon Blues) contradict each other about patient physician email. You can see more either at iHealthbeat or from the Portland Business Journal (reg reqd for both). In the Regence case they found that the emails took longer than calls and increased follow up visits.  At Kaiser they found that emails were shorter and averted some visits.  More interestingly both studies showed that about 3 in 10 patients used email in these pilot programs.  Although the reports say that’s small, I think it’s a big number that will get bigger. After all, think how email spread in other situations like in business and family settings.

However, the folks at Today in e-Health Business who have the good line into Forrester Research add that:

    Forrester Research has found that 65% of patients who visited their physician’s Web site did so to use it to bypass the office receptionist, choosing to look up administrative details such as office hours. Additionally, one-third said they use the site as a credible source for researching general health and medication information, finds Forrester’s Consumer Technographics Q3 2003 North American Study. According to the study, 30% of physician Web site visitors renew prescriptions online. At more sophisticated physician Web sites, the study found, 13% of visitors report reviewing or paying bills, and 11% are viewing their medical records online.

No surprises here.  At the moment people want to use email to get around phone tag more than they want to fundamentally change their relationship with their doctor. Online consultations, and other more advanced uses of asynchronous technology, will take a while–and of course for them to spread someone has to work out who pays!

Note: This is yet another of those topics where I have a larger post brewing in my "draft" folder.  If anyone has examples or information about patient-physician email to add, please email me!

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