A third of patients with chronic conditions who exchanged secure e-mails with their doctors said that these communications improved their overall health, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published in the Journal of Managed Care.
The study is among the first to examine how the ability to send secure e-mails to doctors affects patient behavior, preferences and perceptions about their own health care.
Researchers surveyed 1,041 Kaiser Permanente patients in Northern California who had chronic conditions such as asthma, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes or hypertension. Survey participants included patients who had used Kaiser Permanente's online patient portal, My Health Manager, to send secure e-mail 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.
"We found that a large proportion of patients used e-mail as their first method of contacting health care providers across a variety of health-related concerns," said Mary Reed, DrPH, staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. and the study's lead author, in a prepared statement. "As more patients gain access to online portal tools associated with electronic health records, e-mails between patients and providers may shift the way that health care is delivered and also impact efficiency, quality and health outcomes."
Among the survey's key findings:
• Virtually all patients with chronic conditions said that exchanging e-mail with their health care provider either improved (32 percent) or did not change their overall health (67 percent); less than 1 percent said that e-mailing made their health worse.
• More than half of respondents (56 percent) had sent their provider an e-mail within the previous year, and 46 percent used e-mail as the first method of contact for one or more medical concerns.
• Among patients who had e-mailed their health care provider, 42 percent reported that it reduced phone contacts and 36 percent said it reduced in-person visits.
In 2014, Kaiser Permanente members sent more than 20 million secure e-mails to providers through the portal.