Objective: To determine e-mail utilization patterns and attitudes toward e-mail use among primary care physicians and their ambulatory outpatient clinic patients.
Study design: Cross-sectional baseline survey.
Participants and methods: Participants included 476 consecutive outpatient clinic patients, 126 general medical and family practice physicians, and 16 clinical and office staff from 2 large primary care centers within an academic teaching system. They completed a survey about e-mail usage patterns and their attitudes toward using e-mail for patient-provider communication.
Results: More than half of patients (52.1%) were self-defined e-mail users, yet only 10.5% of those users had ever used e-mail to communicate with their doctors. Seventy percent of all patients said they would be willing to use e-mail to communicate with their doctors. Overall, patients were concerned about logistics, such as whether the message would get to the right person and how long it would take to get a response. Physicians and staff were more optimistic than patients about the potential for e-mail to improve the doctor-patient relationship. Patient e-mail users, patient e-mail nonusers, physicians, and staff reported low levels of concern about the security and privacy of e-mail.
Conclusions: Patient-provider e-mail may diffuse slowly into the primary care clinical practice setting because of patient concerns about efficiency and effectiveness and whether e-mail use will improve their relationship with providers. Managed care organizations that plan to build e-mail and Web-based patient portals will need to promote these technologies in a way that educates both patient and providers about their appropriate use.