Reimbursement issues and privacy concerns rank among the top reasons why only about 7 percent of the more than 4,200 physician practices surveyed by the Center for Studying Health System Change revealed they regularly used email to communicate with patients. All told, however, 65 percent of physicians surveyed said they didn't have any such access to begin with.
Despite the correlation that exists between the new meaningful use regulations and email use--namely that electronic medical record use "indirectly encourage[s] email adoption ... to the extent electronic messaging tools are integrated or used in conjunction with EMRs"--the report's authors maintain that many doctors remain hesitant because currently, there is no guarantee of money. "Moreover, the question remains," they write, "whether physicians will actually use email in the absence of additional reimbursement for the extra costs required to communicate with patients via email to better coordinate patient care."
Still, doctors whose practices used EMRs were three times more likely to "routinely" communicate with patients via email than providers who used only paper records.
Doctors the most likely to email patients, according to the survey, were those who were part of a large group or HMO. Doctors working in medical-school owned office practices, clinics, or on such hospital staffs also used email relatively frequently compared to solo practitioners.
With regard to specialty, physicians practicing internal medicine were more likely than their general practice, pediatric, or surgical counterparts to use email. Those on a fixed salary also had a higher likelihood of using email to communicate with patients.