Physician use of e-mail to communicate with patients "is growing slowly and remains low," despite strong interest from the public and among policymakers, the Center for Studying Health System Change said in a report last month. About 24% of 6,600 physicians participating in a 2004-05 survey said they had secure e-mail available to them to communicate clinical information to patients. About 20% said they had secure e-mail available in a similar poll in 2000-01. Use of e-mail for physician-patient communications is most common at larger practices, but much of the recent growth occurred among smaller practices, the center said. It noted that financial considerations remain a barrier, as implementing an encrypted e-mail system is more expensive than regular
e-mail, and physicians are less likely to be reimbursed for electronic consultations than in-person consultations. Contrary to study findings, physicians also fear e-mail communication will add to their workload, although studies have shown e-mails can improve efficiency and patient satisfaction, according to the report.