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Physician E-mail with Patients Uncommon

Fewer than 1 in 10 Office-Based Physicians Routinely E-mail Patients About Clinical Issues

News Release
Oct. 7, 2010

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or

WASHINGTON , DC—Despite indications that many patients want to communicate with their physicians via e-mail, physicians’ use of e-mail with patients is the exception rather than the rule, according to a new national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

Overall, only 6.7 percent of all office-based physicians nationally routinely e-mailed patients about clinical issues in 2008, according to the study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). About one-third of office-based physicians in 2008 reported that information technology for communicating with patients about clinical issues via e-mail was available in their practice. Of the physicians with access to e-mail, about one in five (19.5%) routinely e-mailed patients.

Other research indicates that many patients want to communicate with their physicians via e-mail. One survey sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation and conducted at the end of 2009, found that between 50 percent and 70 percent of adults who did not use e-mail to communicate with their doctors or nurses were interested in doing so. And, only 8 percent of all of the adults surveyed reported ever sending an e-mail to or receiving an e-mail from their doctor.

“Despite strong patient interest, physicians are not rushing to e-mail patients,” said HSC Health Research Analyst Ellyn R. Boukus, M.A., coauthor of the study with Joy Grossman, Ph.D., an HSC senior researcher; and Ann S. O’Malley, M.D., M.P.H., an HSC senior researcher.

While the survey did not ascertain why physicians do not e-mail patients, physician concerns about lack of reimbursement, the potential for increased workload, maintaining data privacy and security, avoiding increased medical liability, and the uncertain impact on care quality are commonly cited as reasons why physicians may be reluctant to use e-mail.

Based on HSC’s nationally representative 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey, the study findings are detailed in a new HSC Issue Brief—Physicians Slow to E-Mail Routinely with Patients—available online at Funded by RWJF, the survey includes responses from more than 4,700 physicians, and the response rate was 62 percent. The study sample was restricted to 4,258 office-based physicians.

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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research.




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The Center for Studying Health System Change Ceased operation on Dec. 31, 2013.