Trends in Doctors Accepting Patient Emails

Trends in Doctors Accepting Patient Emails
Kim

Guest post by John Sung Kim, CEO of DoctorBase.com.

As been reported here and many other industry publications – patient use of mobile health apps is skyrocketing. So why can’t we email our doctors yet?

Early statistics

Since 2010, vendors of patient communications applications have seen a gradual uptick in healthcare providers who accept email from patients, but they are often for special circumstances and providers generally do not make their email address available to their entire patient tablet. When asked in an informal survey of 500 small to medium sized practices (SMB defined here as one to seven doctors in a single location) the top three reasons for not accepting patient email in 2011 were:

1)     Lack of reimbursement

2)     Potential to divest the practice of traditional in-office revenue

3)     Security issues

In the same survey when asked how many doctors offered their email address to their patients the respondents indicated –

1)     All my patients – less than 3%

2)     In special circumstances – more than 22%

3)     Rarely – more than 74%

4)     If they were paid for their email response time – 46% said they would accept email from their general patient tablet if the reimbursement came direct from patients and bypassed payer paperwork.

That same survey in 2012 yielded as the top three reasons for not accepting patient email —

1)     Lack of reimbursement

2)     Potential to divest the practice of traditional in-office revenue

3)     Security issues

When asked how many offered their email address to their patients the respondents indicated –

1)     All my patients – less than 6%

2)     In special circumstances – more than 37%

3)     Rarely – more than 56%

4)     If they were paid for their email time – 66% said they would accept email from their general patient tablet if the reimbursement came direct from patients and bypassed payer paperwork.

Findings

The lack of reimbursed time continues to be the primary concern for providers as they wrestle with the increasingly mobile and digital world of communications, with divesture of traditional in-office revenues as a close second. One thing not mentioned in the stats above was that “HIPAA compliance and security concerns” was a distant third behind economic factors in both annual surveys.

While we saw the explosion of smartphone sales from 2011 to 2012, the number of doctors offering their email address to their general patient tablet grew very little (about 3%) while the biggest gain was in doctors who offered their email in “special circumstances.”

From this sampling we can potentially infer that economic forces – not security – is the primary driver in doctors offering their patients email services. And who can blame them – would we work for free?

Sampling limitations

Most of those surveyed were small to medium sized (SMB) group practices that ranged from specialties such as OB/GYN to Internal Medicine. As such, the statistical significance is more relevant to this segment of the provider market. As well, the patient communications industry is in its infancy and coming regulatory changes with HIPAA Omnibus 2013 and Meaningful Use Stage 2 may affect provider behavior in the next 24 months. Surveys conducted using Surveymonkey.

The inventor of the first Cloud-based contact center and founder of Five9.com, John Sung Kim is the current CEO of DoctorBase.com – the leading provider of mSaaS (Mobile Software as a Service) that allows healthcare providers to easily monetize mobile communications with patients.

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