Americans Want Online Access to Doctors, Health Records: Survey
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Internet-savvy Americans would like to add their doctors to their group of Facebook "friends" or email contacts.

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In a new study, researchers analyzed more than 2,250 responses from a national survey of retail pharmacy customers.

Many of those surveyed were frequent Facebook users who wanted to be able to contact their doctor about health-related matters through this social networking site or via email.

Thirty-seven percent of participants said they'd emailed their doctor in the past six months, and 18 percent had reached out through Facebook. The researchers said this was surprising since most medical centers discourage social media contact between doctors and patients due to privacy issues and legal concerns.

Those most likely to reach out to their doctor electronically are non-whites, people younger than 45 and those with higher incomes, according to the study recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Caregivers and patients with chronic illnesses are also more likely to use email or Facebook to communicate with their doctor. People with less education and lower incomes were less likely to reach out to their doctor online, the findings showed.

Accessing health information electronically is also preferred, survey results revealed. Up to 57 percent of respondents reported wanting to use their doctors' websites for this purpose. About 46 percent also wanted to track their health progress or access health information through email.

Electronic health records have made these options available to patients at many hospitals, but few patients actually use them. Only 7 percent of those polled ever access their own heath information on their doctors' website and only 7 percent order drugs by email, the survey showed. This suggests patients may not know about the online health services available to them, the study authors suggested.

"The findings highlight the gap between patient interest for online communication and what physicians may currently provide," study author Joy Lee, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said in a journal news release.

"Improving and accelerating the adoption of secure web-messaging systems is a possible solution that addresses both institutional concerns and patient demand," Lee said.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas