A national online survey of more than 2,200 CVS retail pharmacy customers finds that patients want to leverage email, Facebook, and physician websites to communicate with their doctors.

However, there remains a gap between patient interest for online communication and what physicians currently provide.

The survey results, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, reveal that patients are interested in using web-based tools to fill prescriptions, track their own health, and access health information (37–57 percent), yet few are currently doing so (4–8 percent).

Part of the problem, according to researchers, is that providers generally discourage electronic communication with their patients outside of established EHR systems and patient portals. However, so far, EHRs/patient portals have proven to be disappointing in terms of satisfying both patient and provider needs.

“The medical establishment needs to figure out how best to incorporate this reality into their practice while properly ensuring security safeguards,” said Joy Lee, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, who led the study. “This is an area where there is significant patient interest, but institutions and healthcare providers haven’t caught up.”

Also See: Hospital Use of Social Media Widespread Among Different Platforms

Nonetheless, despite recommendations from some hospitals and professional organizations that clinicians limit email contact with patients and avoid “friending” patients on social media, the survey showed 37 percent of patients had used personal email to contact their doctors or hospital within the past six months and 18 percent reported using Facebook.

In the 25-44 age group, patients were most likely to use email or Facebook to contact their doctors, with 49 percent of those surveyed indicating that they had done so within the past six months. At the same time, 34 percent of patients aged 45-64 and 26 percent of patients aged 65 or older said they had used the online tools for those purposes.

Researchers predict that the percentage of patients using Facebook as a means of contacting their doctors “might grow as the average age of Facebook users rises and familiarity with Facebook grows.” They cite earlier studies indicating that a significant number of patients are interested in using the social media platform as a means of contacting their providers.

“Improving and accelerating the adoption of secure web messaging systems is a possible solution that addresses both institutional concerns and patient demand,” concludes the article.

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