Digital messages from patients up 150% amid pandemic, overwhelming physicians

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Physicians are overwhelmed by the number of digital messages they are receiving from patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Sept. 17 report by The Verge.

A Jay Holmgren, PhD, assistant professor in the Center for Clinical Informatics and Improvement Research at the University of California-San Francisco,, conducted research using Epic data on patient messaging from 366 health systems. Epic's data showed the number of messages to physicians from patients increased by more than 150 percent since the start of the pandemic.

"They want to be responsive to the patient's needs,", told The Verge. Dr. Holmgren said there are no helpful systems in place to assist physicians with tackling the spike in messages. 

Dr. Holmgren said the spike may be caused by several factors, such as patients messaging their physician because in-office visits were paused early on in the pandemic, or patients didn't know the option existed before and now that they do they're continuing to use it.

Dr. Holmgren said messages to physicians stayed high even as COVID-19 cases declined, so he thinks the rise in messages is related to patients' awareness of the option.

Messages from patients are still relatively low compared to the dozens of emails physicians get each day. Before the pandemic, physicians got one to two messages from patients a day. In 2020, that rose to three or four messages each day. Dr. Holmgren said these messages can take a lot of time to answer. 

"You could get into this position where you can send your message, but the doctor doesn't respond for a couple of weeks because they're so overloaded with messages," Dr. Holmgren said. "Then it's not a useful tool anymore."

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