This issue brief from the Center for Studying Health System Change describes how physicians are slowly begin to use electronic mail as a means of communicating routinely with their patients. Based on data from 2008, only 6.7% of office-based physicians used electronic mail to communicate with their patients, and only 34.5% reported that such technology was available in their practice.
The number of physicians who will use electronic mail should increase with the implementation of the Health Information for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which includes incentives for physicians to adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records. While using electronic mail is not yet a requirement for receiving the meaningful use incentives, many EHRs include such functionality. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is sponsoring the Direct Project, which provides a free, open-source, secure protocol and format for sending and receiving electronic mail, regardless of what EHR is being used.