More Clinicians Understand That Patients Want To Communicate Online

Posted by

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

First posted 6/26/11 on Health Populi

As people take on more DIY approaches in their daily lives for travel planning, photo management, and investing, they’re looking for health care touchpoints to do the same — especially, their physicians. In 2011, more doctors are responding to this patient-driven demand, based on data published in the InformationWeek digital health care issue July 25, 2011, titled The Pain of Change.

Most patients would be willing to change physician practices if their doctors don’t offer online access to tools, based on a recent survey from Intuit which Health Populi covered in March 2011 here.

For a long time, physicians were concerned about security in online messaging between their patients and their practices. Today, this is changing: InformationWeek Analytics’ 2011 Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that 24% of physicians reports “widespread” use of email to communicate with patients, shown in the bar chart. Privacy, security, liability, and reimbursement are the most-cited reasons for not engaging with physicians via email.

21% of physicians are regularly using a portal or website. Fewer than 1 in 10 doctors report “widespread” use of IM and videoconferencing. However, there is some limited use of social media, wikis, IM and videoconferencing, indicating the clinicians are stepping toes into these emerging platforms for patient communication.

There’s one aspect on which physicians and patients agree: most in each group aren’t keen to connect on Facebook….yet. Still, some providers are experimenting and learning about how to create trust and productive relationships in such online platforms, such as the Mayo Clinic which has a Facebook page and encourages patients to tell their stories on a  YouTube channel.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Several forces are converging in the health market that will drive physicians to adopt online communication platforms for patient care:

  • Payment models that pay for performance and value, population health management, patient centered medical homes, and accountable care;
  • Meeting meaningful use criteria for EHR HITECH incentives;
  • Consumer demand for online tools, as demonstrated in the Intuit survey.

Many EHR vendors will help physicians to incorporate these platforms into their workflow, as the most popular digital records include patient portals that can enable people to check on their lab results online, tap into personal health records, and schedule appointments.

Furthermore, a few physicians’ professional associations are offering guidance and support for their constituents in adopting online communications with patients. The American College of Physicians has stated that, “e-health activities have the potential to transform the healthcare delivery system” and “advance the patient-centered” medical model. Perhaps the last constraint preventing the most risk-averse physicians will be legal liability. While health information technology promises lots of jobs for workers, there will be ample opportunities for the health care lawyers, as well.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn is a health economist writing at Health Populi.

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