Purpose: To examine the utilization and potential uses and problems of electronic communication with patients.
Methods: University and college health centers were surveyed about the type of utilization and policies of electronic communication with patients. The survey group consisted of 99 health centers predominantly serving students representing small-, medium-, and large-sized public and private colleges and universities. Eighty-nine health centers completed the survey.
Results: Of the responding health centers, 63.6% use some form of electronic communication with patients. Twenty-seven percent of the health centers give out some form of medical advice via E-mail or the Internet; 14.7% give out some laboratory results via E-mail; 3.4% make appointments via E-mail; and 63.6% give out administrative advice by E-mail. While there was consistent concern expressed about confidentiality and security, only five health centers had a policy about electronic communication. Uses were most common in nonclinical areas but did include health education, Web sites, medical advice, laboratory results, appointment-making or confirmation, and contacting hard-to-reach patients including those studying abroad.
Conclusions: While electronic communication with patients was common, provision of direct medical advice was less common. Issues receiving little attention include determining the types of electronic communication that is acceptable to staff and students, determining the level of security of their current information system, educating staff about confidentiality and security issues, and establishing a comprehensive policy regarding electronic communication with patients.