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Docs Balk, But Email Improves Patient Experience

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, April 3, 2013

Physicians Slow to Adopt Email
It is no wonder patients love the ability to email their PCP with minor questions—for clarification (like me) or to request forms or prescription refills. Unfortunately, most doctors approach communicating electronically with patients with trepidation.

Less than one-third of doctors reported emailing with patients in 2012, up from 27% in 2008, according to annual studies of more than 3,000 doctors conducted by Manhattan Research. That's right, the number of physicians emailing with their patients increased by only 5 percentage points in as many years. To put that in perspective, Twitter went from a tiny start-up to a multi-billion dollar company in the same amount of time.

Furthermore, physicians who texted via SMS messages with patients about their care increased from 12% in 2010 to 18% in 2012.

Only 5.5% of 30,000-plus Americans included in a National Health Interview Survey reported communicating with a healthcare provider by email in 2011, up slightly from 4.6% in 2009, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Benefits of Email
These statistics are, frankly, pathetic and it's the marketer's job to improve them. Beyond creating more engaged patients and potentially improving quality of care, patient emails are at heart a communications issue. It's a workflow/efficiency issue. Think of all the time that's wasted when doctors' offices and patients play phone tag. And—more than that—it's a patient experience issue. Patient experience extends far beyond the bricks and motor of your hospital.

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5 comments on "Docs Balk, But Email Improves Patient Experience"


Laura Marshall (4/8/2013 at 11:41 AM)
Ask the folks at Kaiser Permanente; their secure patient portal has been up and running for years now and from what I knew when I worked with their HIT folks in Oakland, the system worked well for patients AND physicians, cutting the amount of time office staff spent returning phone calls and reducing workload overall. Patients loved it, kept in touch better with their doctors, and it saved time all around.

Kristin Baird, RN, BSN,MHA (4/8/2013 at 7:40 AM)
Marianne, I'm glad you wrote about this issue. Email with physicians has been essential for me as I manage my mother's increasingly complex healthcare. Using the function in conjunction with the other portal features allows me to stay up on her results and pose non-urgent questions. I think that helping patients understand the difference between non-urgent and urgent issues will help. Marketers and practice managers will help facilitate the physician's comfort by establishing processes for efficiently screening emails for the physician.

Art Gross (4/6/2013 at 8:22 AM)
@Kay I agree that all communications with patients need to be secure and HIPAA compliant. I also agree with you about the complexities and costs of Patient Portals. However, encrypted secure email is easy to setup and cost less than $100 per account per year. Sending encrypted emails is as easy as sending regular emails. And all communication between a physicians office and patient is encrypted, secure and fully HIPAA compliant. The good news is that secure communication with patients is here today.