Background: Despite substantial evidence that the public wants access to Internet-based communication with health care providers, online patient-provider communication remains relatively uncommon, and few studies have examined sociodemographic and health-related factors associated with the use of online communication with health care providers at a population level.
Objective: The aim of the study was to use nationally representative data to report on the prevalence of and changes in use of online patient-provider communication in 2003 and 2005 and to describe sociodemographic and health-related factors associated with its use.
Methods: Data for this study are from two iterations of the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS 2003, HINTS 2005). In both years, respondents were asked whether they had ever used email or the Internet to communicate with a doctor or a doctor's office. Adult Internet users in 2003 (n = 3982) and 2005 (n = 3244) were included in the present study. Multivariate logistic regression analysis was conducted to identify predictors for electronic communication with health care providers.
Results: In 2003, 7% of Internet users had communicated online with an health care provider; this prevalence significantly increased to 10% in 2005. In multivariate analyses, Internet users with more years of education, who lived in a metro area, who reported poorer health status or who had a personal history of cancer were more likely to have used online patient-provider communication.
Conclusions: Despite wide diffusion of the Internet, online patient-provider communication remains uncommon but is slowly increasing. Policy-level changes are needed to maximize the availability and effectiveness of online patient-provider communication for health care consumers and health care providers. Internet access remains a significant barrier to online patient-provider communication.