Using texts, emails, Skype, and other digital communication methods may be a way to improve the health care experience of younger patients with chronic conditions.

“Digital communication enables timely access for young people to the right clinician at the time when it can make a difference to how they manage their health condition,” says Frances Griffiths, professor at the University of Warwick Medical School.

“This is valued as an addition to traditional clinic appointments, and can engage those otherwise disengaged. It can enhance patient autonomy, empowerment, and activation.”

For a new study, researchers examined case studies from 20 National Health Service specialist clinical teams in England and Wales. The findings appear in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The findings suggest that patients who will likely benefit the most are those who already have a relationship of trust with a clinical team and who need to have flexible access, such as when they are transitioning between services, treatments, or where they live.

Cost and ethical and safety issues may be a problem but researchers say common sense can mitigate risks of becoming too dependent on clinicians, inadvertent disclosure of confidential information, and communication failures. Further, clinical teams need to be proactive in their approach to ethics, governance, and patient safety.

“Digital communication is already happening between health professionals and young people, and it’s clearly something young people want,” says Jackie Sturt, professor of behavioral medicine in nursing at King’s College London.

“We think the NHS should be proactive in creating guidelines and helping clinicians to engage young people via digital communication. There are obviously risks, but also the potential for real benefits.”