A new national survey of retail pharmacy customers finds that many Americans are interested in using email and Facebook to communicate with their physicians. Moreover, study participants wanted to use information technology as a way to manage their health.
The survey was performed by Joy Lee, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Findings appear in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Surveys were sent to more than 4,500 pharmacy clients with a response rate of 2,252 replies. Respondents tended to be well educated, in good health, and frequent users of Facebook.
The results show that the people who responded are very interested in using email and Facebook to communicate with their physicians, and to manage their health.
In the six months prior to the survey, 37 percent of patients did, in fact, contact their doctors via email, and another 18 percent through Facebook.
Lee says the latter finding is notable, as most institutions actively discourage social media contact with individual patients, due to privacy and liability concerns.
Researchers discovered non-white respondents, people younger than 45 years old and those with a higher income are more likely to make electronic contact with their doctors.
Investigators found that this communication vehicle is also used by those taking care of others, and patients with chronic health conditions.
College graduates are also more likely than others to use Facebook to communicate with their physicians, while people with lower education levels and income do not opt for correspondence by email.
The survey showed that up to 57 percent of patients want to use their physicians’ websites to access health information. Additionally, around 46 percent of patients want to be able to use email to track their health progress and access health information.
Many of these functions are already possible through the electronic health records systems, developed and used by many major hospitals. However, the survey shows that despite expressing interest in such opportunities, few patients use them.
Only seven percent of respondents actually use their physicians’ websites to access their own health information, while another seven percent fill prescriptions via email. Lee said these results highlight a disconnect between patient interest and use.
He believes that in many cases, patients might not be aware of existing services.
“The findings highlight the gap between patient interest for online communication and what physicians may currently provide,” says Lee.
“Improving and accelerating the adoption of secure web-messaging systems is a possible solution that addresses both institutional concerns and patient demand.”