Patient-physician e-mail consists mostly of follow-up info

November 1, 2003

Pharmaceutical Representative

Most patients who are able to e-mail their doctor use e-mail to ask follow-up questions regarding their ongoing treatment plans, recent doctor visits or medications.

Most patients who are able to e-mail their doctor use e-mail to ask follow-up questions regarding their ongoing treatment plans, recent doctor visits or medications, according to data compiled by San Francisco-based Medem, a patient-physician communications company. The data, which were collected through the analysis of thousands of patient-physician e-mails after all personal information was removed, showed that new medical problems or conditions were rarely the subject of patient-physician e-mails.

The study looked at both general physician office secure e-mail and online consultations, in which the patient pays a fee (on average $25) for the physician's consultation delivered via secure e-mail. For general office e-mail, the top message categories were administrative in nature and included appointment requests and billing questions, among other topics. For fee-based online consultations, the top subjects were related to ongoing medical care and questions about medication, including medication effect, dosage, side effects and alternative medication queries.

Consultation versus treatment

Representatives at Medem claim the study confirms that consumers' primary interest in physician e-mail is as a source of ongoing advice related to known conditions or treatments, and as a means to further reinforce, explain and fine-tune treatment plans and options. The study also deflects concerns that patient-physician e-mail would be used as a method of diagnosing and treating new conditions over the Internet.

Said Edward Fotsch, chief executive officer at Medem, "This study confirms that online patient-physician communication is expanding care beyond the four walls of the exam room and represents a powerful new tool for disease management and patient education and compliance." PR

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