Only 9 percent of Americans surveyed said they received text reminders from their doctors' offices. (iStock)

The digital technology that many Americans use in often very busy lives -- in banking, shopping, traveling, communicating -- still plays but a bit role when it comes to their health care.

According to a Nielsen survey released Tuesday, most people can't use email, texting and other tools to share medical information with their doctors, much less receive the same, because many providers don't offer such access.

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The survey, conducted on behalf of two health policy groups, polled more than 5,000 Americans ages 18-65 on their attitudes and use of technology to manage their medical care. Only 21 percent have access to online appointment scheduling with their doctors; just 15 percent use email to communicate with their provider; only 9 percent receive reminders by text.

“All the functionality that we live our lives on isn’t available in health care. You use your phone every day to send a text message or email; you can’t do that to over 90 percent of physicians. You take a picture, and you want to send it someone; you can’t do that [with doctors' offices] today,” said Robert Pearl, chairman of the Council of Accountable Physician Practices.

"This is not cutting-edge technology we're talking about," he said. "This is the standard way we live our lives."


The council is a coalition of more than two dozen medical and health systems, including Cleveland Clinic, Geisinger Health system and Mayo Clinic. The survey was commissioned by the council and the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit founded by former Senate majority leaders.

The two organizations are holding a panel discussion Wednesday at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington to discuss how digital technology can improve care and the patient experience.

Two main reasons the barriers exist are inertia by physicians and a lack of financial incentives to tackle a complex task, Pearl said. Doctor practices can’t bill for these technologies. And for the tools to work well, they need to be linked electronically with diagnostic labs, pharmacies and other physician practices, he said.

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The survey also polled 626 physicians who reported generally low use of telemedicine. Eleven percent said they recommended email reminders, and 8 percent said they recommended text reminders. Slightly less than a third said telemedicine was not worth the hype, but nearly 40 percent said it was good for patients.

The survey shows patients want the services.

Of those who who don't currently have access to their providers through electronic or digital communications, 36 percent want online appointment scheduling and 34 percent want an online portal to access test results, according to the poll. Among those age 18-34, more than four in 10 want text reminders about appointments.

Another 26 percent were interested in submitting photos of medical conditions in preparation for phone or email consultations with their clinicians.

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