When you choose a physician, consider asking whether your doctor uses email to communicate with patients. A new study shows that patients benefit when their doctors use email along with other forms of communication.

In fact, the study by Kaiser Permanente found that one third of people with chronic conditions who used secure email to communicate with their physicians said that using email improved their health overall.

“We found that a large proportion of patients used email as their first method of contacting healthcare providers across a variety of health-related concerns,” says Mary E. Reed, staff scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California, and the study’s lead author. “As more patients gain access to online portal tools associated with electronic health records, emails between patients and providers may shift the way that healthcare is delivered and also impact efficiency, quality and health outcomes.”

This is one of the first studies to look at how email communication between doctors and patients impacts the patient’s healthcare preferences, perceptions, and behaviors. 1,041 Kaiser Permanente patients who had chronic conditions such as asthma, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, or hypertension, participated in the study. This includes those who had used Kaiser Permanente’s online patient portal, My Health Manager, which lets patients access their records, set appointments, and manage prescriptions online.

Among the survey’s key findings:

  • Only one percent of those surveyed thought emailing their doctor had a negative effect on their health. Thirty-two percent said the emails improved their health, while 67 percent saw no change.
  • Over half of people surveyed (56 percent) had emailed their provider in the past year, and 46 percent preferred email as the best method of communication for one or more of their health needs.
  • Forty-two percent of those who emailed their physicians said they needed to call the doctor less, and 36 percent of those who emailed found they needed to see the doctor less in person.
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