E-mail communications in family practice: what do patients expect?

J Fam Pract. 2001 May;50(5):414-8.


Objective: Many health care providers and patients are exploring the feasibility of using E-mail to address a variety of medical issues. The researchers wanted to determine the proportion of their patient population with E-mail access, determine patients' willingness to use this technology to expedite communication with health care providers, and assess their expectations of response times.

Study design: A cross-sectional, in-person prevalence survey.

Population: Patients (n=950) with scheduled appointments to see a primary care provider in 6 of 18 family practice clinics in a large health care delivery system in central Texas.

Outcomes measured: The proportion of patients with E-mail access, their willingness to use it, and their expectations regarding the timeliness of responses to their E-mail queries about selected clinical services.

Results: Overall, 54.3% of the patients reported having E-mail access, with significant variation among the 6 clinics (33%-75%). Reported areas of strongest desire for using E-mail were to request prescription refills (90%), for non-urgent consultations (87%), and to obtain routine laboratory results or test reports (84%). Patients' expectations regarding the timeliness of responses to their E-mail queries varied by clinical service. For laboratory results, their expectations were: less than 9 hours, 21%; 9 to 24 hours, 53%; and more than 24 hours, 26%.

Conclusions: Most patients attending family practice clinics in central Texas have E-mail access and indicate they would use it to request prescription refills, for non-urgent consultations, and to obtain routine laboratory results or test reports. Regardless of sex or race, patients have high expectations that these tasks can be completed within a relatively short time.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Communication*
  • Computer Communication Networks* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Practice*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Prevalence
  • Time Factors