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Low-Income Patients Often Have Trouble Reaching Doctor Via Email

FRIDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- Many low-income patients want to communicate electronically with their doctors but can't because the clinics they use generally do not offer such services, a new study finds.

An increasing number of health care systems provide online services to patients in order to manage care outside of office visits, and this includes enabling patients to communicate electronically with health care providers.

But this is not available to many poorer patients, according to the study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

The researchers surveyed more than 400 patients in six San Francisco Department of Public Health community clinics serving primarily uninsured and underinsured patients. Fifty-four percent of the patients said they use the Internet in their daily lives and 60 percent said they use email. Many also said they use text messaging.

Although 78 percent of the patients expressed interest in electronic communication with doctors and other health care providers, only 17 percent said email contact with health care providers was a part of their care, according to the study, which was released online recently in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"Patients were largely in favor of using email technology for health, and agreed it would likely improve overall clinical communication and efficiency," lead author Dr. Adam Schickedanz said in a university news release.

"Our work makes it clear that lower-income patients from a wide variety of backgrounds want to be part of the health information technology revolution," he said. "The question is whether they will be afforded the opportunities to take part in the same way as their middle- and higher-income peers."

A recent national study found that about 75 percent of patients were interested in electronic communication with health care providers, but there has been little research to measure interest among low-income patients, as they are less likely to have access to computers and the Internet, according to the study authors.

Future research should examine the preferences of a wide range of patients for allowing electronic communication with health care providers, including how to provide access for patients with various levels of language and literacy skills, the authors noted.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers tips for talking with your doctor.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, Feb. 25, 2013

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