Study: Electronic messaging should be part of physicians' job description

As participation in patient portals grows, so, too, does the number of electronic messages sent between patients and physicians, showing a need for reimbursement and clinical structures that allow physicians to make use of the tool, according to a study published this month in Health Affairs.

The study looks at the use of messaging through patient portals at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston over a span of a decade--from 2001 to 2010. At the end of the study, more than 49,500 patients enrolled in the portal, and of those, 36.9 percent sent at least one message to a physician.

In addition, the number of messages tripled during the study period; however, the number of messages sent stabilized from 2005 to 2010. The authors noted that because they only analyzed data at one health center, their findings might not be generalized to all settings.

Secure messaging has also been shown to increase in-person visits. Diabetic patients with co-pay-free access to their doctors through secure messaging and telephone-based communication were more likely to make in-person visits, according to a study published recently at the Annals of Family Medicine.

The authors of the Health Affairs study said that while patients show increasing interest in portals and messaging, clinicians have been slow to adopt such tools.

A recent study on patient engagement via portals found that patients are slow to use the tools and are often frustrated with them. Another similar survey, by TechnologyAdvice, also found that although patient portals increasingly are available at healthcare facilities, many patients don't know about the systems.

When it comes to slow adoption by clinicians, the Health Affairs study cited concerns over how the tools will impact physicians' time, productivity and reimbursement.

As reimbursement moves toward global payment, however, the authors say participation in secure messaging likely will grow. These kinds of electronic communication should become a part of physicians' job descriptions, according to the researchers.

The study found variability in message volume across physicians, most likely attributable to differences on preference and comfort with the technology.

To learn more:
- check out the study abstract