Patients With Online Access To Doctors May Make More Office Visits

By Eric Whitney, for NPR

Uncle Sam wants you to email your doctor. A federal law passed in 2009 says that physicians have to start offering their patients online communication, or Medicare will start docking how much it pays them in the future.

Some patients hope that having online access to their doctors will mean they can cut down on how often they have to go to the doctor’s office. But fresh research suggests that patients with online access actually schedule more office visits.

Dr. Ted Palen is an internist at Kaiser Permanente Colorado in Denver. He says it’s pretty common for him to see a patient in his office and then think, “You know, we could’ve handled this by e-mail.”

Palen, who’s also a researcher, wanted to see if offering patients online access to their doctors would mean they’d need to come in to the office less often. Previous studies found around a 20 percent drop in patient visits once they had online access.

But Palen’s much larger study, just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that patients with online access actually scheduled more visits.

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