A leading healthcare system in the greater Seattle area is running television advertisements telling customers and prospects that they can now use e-mail to communicate with their doctors and to make appointments. While e-mail is certainly helpful in the context of communicating with doctors and other medical personnel, consider that this group is advertising the ability to use e-mail with their customers in 2006 - literally a decade or more since many other industries started using e-mail routinely for communications with their customers.While that may seem like a criticism of this particular healthcare system or the healthcare industry in general, it certainly is not. The medical industry tends to be among the most conservative of all industries, in large part because so much is at stake when healthcare concerns are communicated between medical professionals\u00a0or with their patients. For example, a simple miscommunication between a PC reseller and a customer is unlikely to have serious ramifications - such a miscommunication between a doctor and a pharmacist, on the other hand, could be fatal.Further, the healthcare industry faces intense regulation, not least of which is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which specifies requirements for maintaining patient privacy and the security of medical records, among many other provisions.All that being said, the healthcare industry has much to gain through the use of e-mail and other communication technologies. Past research that we have done clearly demonstrates that a significant percentage of patients would switch to a doctor who allowed them to communicate via e-mail and instant messaging (IM), all other things being equal. Providers, such as doctors, hospitals, health clinics and other medical concerns can gain a great deal through the use of electronic prescriptions, Web conferencing, electronic health records management systems and other technologies. Payers, such as insurance companies and benefits administrators, can become much more efficient through the use of electronic claim submissions and secure e-mail technologies, for example.Osterman Research, in conjunction with Health Industry News will be conducting a study on communication issues in the healthcare industry to determine exactly how e-mail, IM, e-prescriptions and a host of other communications technologies will be used in the healthcare industry. We are currently soliciting subscribers to this study, which will be published in late May, and I will be reporting on some of our findings in this newsletter.