Patients who email their doctors are healthier, Kaiser study finds

Patients who take advantage of secure patient-physician email options offered by their doctor are more likely to experience healthy outcomes, according to a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs. In a study of their own electronic health records system, Kaiser Permanente researchers found that patients suffering from diabetes and hypertension who emailed their doctors had higher quality of care scores than those who do not use such technology. 

A similar study, published simultaneously in Health Affairs, found that primary-care physicians must improve their communication skills in order to deliver "patient-centered care." The increased talk of the patient-centered medical home and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's focus on primary care heightens this need, according to researchers from the University of Toronto, the American Board of Internal Medicine and the University of Rochester's Center to Improve Communication in Health Care.

The Kaiser study specifically focused on 35,423 patients with diabetes or hypertension in Kaiser's Southern California region. Those that used Kaiser's secure patient portal--dubbed My Health Manager--had better cholesterol and blood pressure levels after two months than those who did not. 

"We have always felt that use of secure email messaging is a huge patient satisfier and an efficient way of handling many routine care issues," said Dr. Michael Kanter, regional medical director of quality and clinical analysis for Southern California Permanente Medical Group and one of the study's co-authors. "Now, with this study, we can also state that secure email improves clinical outcomes for patients." 

Dr. Terhilda Garrido, vice president for health IT transformation and analytics at Kaiser and the study's senior author, told HealthDay News that such systems help to "empower" patients and make them feel more in control. Even so, a Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll determined that less than 10 percent of American adults even use EHRs or exchange emails with their doctors, the article reports.

For more information:
- here's a press release of the Kaiser study
- read the study's abstract in Health Affairs
- see the abstract of the Toronto/Rochester study in Health Affairs
- check out this HealthDay News article
- watch this YouTube video of Kanter discussing the study

Neil Versel contributed to this report.

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