You’ve sent mail: Do your patients listen?

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Communication is key in high quality care—and what could be easier than sending an email? A study, published in Journal of Medical Internet Research, examines patient interest in receiving email communications from healthcare providers.

Email has become the norm in communication, and researchers believe this avenue can benefit healthcare. Improving access to care and communications, while reducing costs, are just the tip of the iceberg for email in healthcare. But do patients want to see their physicians name pop up in their inbox? Researchers interviewed patients in their interest in using email to communicate with the healthcare providers.

“Online applications, including email, are emerging as a viable avenue for patient communication,” wrote Puneet Seth, BSc, MD, the first author on the study, and colleagues. “With increasing utility of mobile devices in the general population, the proportion of patients interested in email communication with their health care providers may continue to increase. When following best practices and appropriate guidelines, health care providers can use this resource to enhance patient-provider communication in their clinical work, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes and satisfaction with care among their patients.”

Some 624 patients from the McMaster Family Practice in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, were included in the study. Patients were asked to complete a one-page survey on their interest in electronic communication for healthcare purposes.

Results included:

  • 73.2 percent of patients reported a willingness to communicate with their healthcare provider via email.
  • Patients who checked their email more frequently were less likely to want to receive email communications.
  • 46 percent of patients who checked their email less frequently, less than every three days, preferred to communicate with healthcare providers via email.

“When used to its highest potential, electronic communication could enhance convenience, access, information sharing, satisfaction, and quality of care. However, at its basic level, email communication can have an impact on allowing for electronic scheduling and appointment reminders, as well as the opportunity for clarification after a face-to-face encounter with a primary health care provider or a specialist,” concluded Seth and colleagues. “While this is an ideal outcome of this technology, it is crucial that the ’technological divide '  does not hinder patient experience.”