Study: Emails Between Patients, Physicians Tripled Over 10 Years

October 27, 2014 in News

Email communications between physicians and patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston nearly tripled over a 10-year period, according to a study published in Health Affairs, Health Data Management reports.

Details of Study

For the study, researchers examined email communications at Beth Israel. In 2000, the hospital created a Web portal through which patients could view parts of their medical records and communicate via email with their physicians.

The researchers looked at email traffic between 2000 and 2010.


The researchers found that email communications nearly tripled because more patients were registering to use the online portal. Specifically, about 50,000 patients — or 23% of BIDMC’s patient base — enrolled in the portal during the 10-year study period.

According to the study, communications among individual patients plateaued over time, but physicians received more emails as enrollment in the program increased.

In addition, some physicians used the email system more than others. For example, primary care physicians — who represented 40% of the health system’s doctors — received 85% of the emails.


The results suggest that workflow and reimbursement models may need to be adjusted to account for this method of communication, according to Health Data Management.

Specifically, the health care industry must address questions such as:

  • How physicians get reimbursed for time spent emailing in a fee-for-service model; and
  • How physicians effectively incorporate email exchanges into their already busy schedules.

Lead author Bradley Crotty said the use of technology “may require some policy changes and will most certainly involve adjusting the doctor’s day, building in time going forward to meet patient demand for email communication” (Goth, Health Data Management, 10/23).

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