Studies examine online patient communication in healthcare

July 15, 2010

Two papers in the July issue of Health Affairs examine how email, cell phones, and other technology can affect the patient-provider relationship and health outcomes.

Two papers in the July issue of Health Affairs examine how email, cell phones, and other technology can affect the patient-provider relationship and health outcomes.

In a study of 35,423 patients treated for diabetes and hypertension, or both, through the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, the effectiveness of care was significantly improved over a two-month period among those using e-mail to communicate with their physicians compared with those who used traditional methods of communication. Email use also was associated with an improvement of glycemic, cholesterol, blood pressure screening, and control measures.

Secure e-mail, integrated with a comprehensive electronic health record (EHR), is a powerful tool to improve the experience of care, improve the health of populations, and reduce per capita costs, according to Yi Yvonne Zhou, PhD, senior manager of health information technology, Kaiser Permanente, Portland, OR, and co-authors. Secure patient-physician e-mail has been offered by Kaiser Permanente in Southern California since 2007; all primary and specialty care physicians and about 3 million patients have registered to use it.

In the second paper, Ronald F. Dixon, MD, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, writes that evidence shows that health benefits and cost savings occur when patients and clinicians exchange information using online communication for the delivery of care outside of the typical office visit. Secure messaging, videoconferencing, and remote physiologic monitoring can improve the quality of care and the patient-provider relationship, he says. The healthcare system can be improved and modernized, and technology embraced further, with the better integration of online tools and EHRs and the implementation of a payment system that is not based on office visits, he adds.