Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease May Use Electronic Communication with Their Physicians More Frequently Than Those Without Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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To the Editor:
It is with interest that we read the article by Reich et al, entitled “A Survey of Social Media Use and Preferences in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease” which revealed that social media can be a useful avenue for information delivery and that there may be a desire for patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to receive information from their gastroenterologist through electronic media. We would like to further support the conclusions of this article with significant findings from our own study regarding individuals with IBD and electronic communications. We hypothesized that a younger patient demographic population is more likely to use electronic communications with providers. We evaluated the differences in utilization of electronic physician–patient communication in individuals with IBD as compared with non-IBD patients, as well as, the differences in these communications by patient age, sex, and ethnicity.
In our retrospective chart review, which was at an urban academic medical center over 6 months, we recorded patient demographics, methods of provider communication, and IBD diagnosis. We identified a control group of patients seen at the gastroenterology clinic for chronic diagnoses other than IBD, such as GERD and IBS. All patients were under the care of faculty gastroenterologists. Controls were matched by age, sex, and treating gastroenterologist. Statistical analyses were conducted using a 2-tailed Fisher's exact test with significance set at P < 0.05.
There were 242 (29%) patients with IBD who used electronic communications compared with 21 (6%) non-IBD patients (P = 0.0001). There were 161 (34%) patients younger than 40 years of age who used electronic communications compared with 81 (23%) patients older than 40 years of age (P = 0.0003). There were 163 (48%) females who used electronic communications compared with 79 (32%) males (P = 0.0001). No statistically significant differences were observed among ethnicities.
Access to health care providers is important, particularly for those with chronic illnesses requiring complex management. The increased utilization of electronic communications by patients with IBD highlights the need to focus on faster, easier patient–physician communication modalities among this population. Patients with IBD may have a greater need for urgent delivery of care. Our data indicate that younger patients with IBD, as well as female patients, electronically communicated with their physicians more frequently. In a world that increasingly values faster communication, it is important that we consider making electronic methods, such as email and social media, accessible to patients.

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