More secure-messaging systems needed to meet patient demand

Patient demand for easy electronic access to their healthcare providers continues to rise, but practices have more work to do in adopting communications technologies and engaging people in using them. This apparent disconnect was detected by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who surveyed more than 2,000 CVS retail pharmacy customers about their interest in using online tools to fill prescriptions, track health progress and access their health information.

Key findings, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, include the following:

  • Thirty-seven percent of patients had used personal email to contact their doctors or hospital within the past six months, while 18 percent reported using Facebook for the same purpose.
  • Forty-six percent of patients reported interest in filling prescriptions via email, while only 7 percent were already doing so.
  • About 46 percent of patients were interested in using email to track their health progress and access health information, yet only 7 percent of respondents were doing so. Up to 56 percent wanted to access this information via their physicians' websites, but again just 7 percent were doing so.

"The findings highlight the gap between patient interest for online communication and what physicians may currently provide," Joy Lee, Ph.D., M.S., a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School, told Business Standard. "Improving and accelerating the adoption of secure web-messaging systems is a possible solution that addresses both institutional concerns and patient demand," Lee added.

Lee pointed out that despite patient interest in connecting with physicians via Facebook, most institutions discourage physicians' social media contact with individual patients. The American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards, for example, advise that physicians strictly limit how they communicate with patients via email, keep professional and personal online personas separate and not "friend" or contact patients through sites like Facebook and Twitter, according to a Johns Hopkins statement.

To learn more:
- see the article from Business Standard
- read the statement from Johns Hopkins
- see the abstract