E-Mail Improves Patient Outcomes - InformationWeek

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7/13/2010
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E-Mail Improves Patient Outcomes

Kaiser Permanente finds secure patient-physician communications systems result in better care for diabetes and hypertension.

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In yet another study that examines technology and its impact on health delivery, new research by Kaiser Permanente shows that secure patient-physician e-mail messaging improves the effectiveness of care for patients with diabetes and hypertension.

Published in the July issue of Health Affairs, the study included 35,423 patients with diabetes, hypertension, or both, in Kaiser Permanente's Southern California region. This study is one of the first to show that electronic communications have a measurably positive effect on patient outcomes, in addition to improving efficiency.

The findings revealed that use of secure patient-physician messaging in any two-month period was associated with statistically significant improvements in healthcare effectiveness data and information set (HEDIS) care measurements. Results showed 2 to 6.5 percentage-point improvements in glycemic, cholesterol, and blood pressure screening and control.

"Putting patients and their data at the center of care allows Kaiser Permanente to improve healthcare quality, access, and cost," George Halvorson, Kaiser Permanente's chairman and CEO, said in a statement. "This data proves that health IT can be a fundamental component of accomplishing those three critical goals."

More than 556,000 secure patient-physician e-mail threads, containing more than 630,000 messages, were logged throughout the study. Patients initiated 85% of those threads, which indicates that patients will take actions on their own by operating easy-to-use technology to better manage their healthcare.

Kaiser Permanente's secure e-mail tool, "E-mail my doctor," is used by more than 3 million Kaiser Permanente members, provides patients with secure and timely access to lab test results, medication information, summaries of their health conditions, appointment scheduling, and other important health information.

Kaiser Permanente physicians participating in the study reported that the use of secure e-mail messaging has been highly successful for diabetes patients, enabling them to accurately follow medical instructions. Physicians also are encouraging patients to schedule an appointment if they raise issues via e-mail that are too complex or lengthy to address using that medium.

"There are a lot of reasons that patients contact their care teams. It is important to keep the lines of communication open, while not inconveniencing patients by playing phone tag or bringing them into the office unnecessarily," Michael Kanter, co-author of the study and regional medical director of quality and clinical analysis, Southern California Permanente Medical Group, said in a statement. "We have always felt that use of secure e-mail messaging is a huge patient satisfier and an efficient way of handling many routine care issues. Now, with this study, we can also state that secure e-mail improves clinical outcomes for patients."

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