Study: Emailing doctors reduce office visit volume

So, what happens when doctors make themselves accessible to patients via email? Well, at least at Kaiser Permanente, patients make significantly fewer office appointments.

Kaiser found that office visits per member dropped by about 25 percent between 2004 and 2007 in Hawaii. Within a couple of years of instituting secure messaging, which began in 2005, patients sent 51,000 messages in one year.

Meanwhile, scheduled "telephone visits" shot up as well. Ultimately, by 2007, only 66 percent of patient visits were in person, according to the Kaiser study, which appears in this month's issue of Health Affairs.

All that being said, the authors note that under the Kaiser system, doctors are on salary and aren't paid per visit. In other cases, where private and public insurers are involved, doctors usually don't get paid for virtual visits, making it far less likely that email will replace face-to-face contact.

To learn more about this study:
- read this Wall Street Journal blog item

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