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About half of people use health technology to communicate with their health providers

June 30, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS -- New research shows that 47 percent of people are using technology to communicate with their healthcare providers, and less than a quarter are having conversations with their providers about using health information technology (HIT). Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University research scientists say these numbers indicate there are more opportunities to engage patients in this type of communication.

"The results of our statewide survey indicate patients are using health information technology," said Joy L. Lee, PhD, first author of the paper and Regenstrief research scientist. "However, they aren't talking to their provider about it. One of the few widely agreed upon recommendations for electronic communication in healthcare is for providers to be talking to their patients about it ahead of time. This does not appear to be happening regularly, and may be impacting the use of this technology." Dr. Lee is also an assistant professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine.

"How patients and providers are using technology to communicate may have changed over the last few months in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but having a shared agenda about how to communicate, what is appropriate to send as a message, and being able to discuss it openly is still important to foster the electronic patient-provider relationship," Dr. Lee continued.

Researchers sent surveys to Indiana University Health patients across the state of Indiana asking about their use of technology to communicate with their doctor. Data analysis showed 47 percent had used HIT for communication in the last year. Of those respondents,
  • 31 percent reported using an electronic health record messaging system
  • 24 percent used email
  • 18 percent used text messages
Because this survey was statewide, researchers say it gives a more representative snapshot of health behaviors. These numbers are similar to other research results from across the country. The numbers show a shift toward secure messaging, which is the platform health systems are encouraging people to use because of its integration with the electronic health record.

Out of all the respondents, only 21 percent reported having a conversation with their doctor or provider about how to correspond digitally.

"This lack of conversation may lead to patients not taking advantage of these online communication platforms which have strong potential for patient engagement," said David Haggstrom, M.D., senior author on the paper and interim director of the Regenstrief Institute William M. Tierney Center for Health Services Research. "Individuals may be more likely to use messaging if they know what subjects are appropriate and how their provider might respond. We need to look at providing more support for both patients and providers to facilitate these conversations. The need for remote communication has been dramatically highlighted in the rapidly changing healthcare environment associated with COVID-19." Dr. Haggstrom is also an associate professor at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.
-end-
The article, "Communication about health information technology use between patients and providers," was published online May 27 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine ahead of print. That data was gathered in January and February of 2018.

In addition to Dr. Lee and Dr. Haggstrom, other authors are Susan M. Rawl, PhD of Indiana University School of Nursing and Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center; Stephanie Dickinson, M.S. of Indiana University School of Public Health; Evgenia Teal, M.S. and Layla B. Baker, MBChB of Regenstrief Institute; Chen Lyu, MPH of Indiana University Center for Survey Research; and Will L. Tarver, PhD of Indianapolis VA HSR&D Center for Health Information and Communication.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, (Grant P30 CA082709-17S6) and Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

About Joy L. Lee, PhD

In addition to her role as a research scientist at Regenstrief Institute, Joy L. Lee, PhD, is an assistant professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine.

About David A. Haggstrom, M.D., MAS

In addition to his role as a research scientist and interim director of the Center for Health Services Research at Regenstrief Institute, David A. Haggstrom, M.D., MAS, is a core investigator for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center for Health Information and Communication, Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center. He is also an associate professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine and an affiliate member of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

About Regenstrief Institute

Founded in 1969 in Indianapolis, the Regenstrief Institute is a local, national and global leader dedicated to a world where better information empowers people to end disease and realize true health. A key research partner to Indiana University, Regenstrief and its research scientists are responsible for a growing number of major healthcare innovations and studies. Examples range from the development of global health information technology standards that enable the use and interoperability of electronic health records to improving patient-physician communications, to creating models of care that inform practice and improve the lives of patients around the globe.

Regenstrief Institute is celebrating 50 years of healthcare innovation. Sam Regenstrief, a successful entrepreneur from Connersville, Indiana, founded the institute with the goal of making healthcare more efficient and accessible for everyone. His vision continues to guide the institute's research mission.

About IU School of Medicine

IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.

About Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center is Indiana's only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and one of only 51 in the nation. The comprehensive designation recognizes the center's excellence in basic, clinical, and population research, outstanding educational activities, and effective community outreach program across the state.

Regenstrief Institute

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