Do dermatology outpatients value a copy of the letter sent to their general practitioner? In what way and at what cost?

Clin Exp Dermatol. 2004 Jan;29(1):81-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2230.2004.01437.x.


Dermatology services are largely outpatient based. Time for satisfactory patient communication is limited, with an average of around 15 min per new patient. The amount of new information that can be retained after verbal communication alone is limited during such consultations. One way to reinforce such information is to send patients a copy of the hospital specialist's letter to the general practitioner. Before advocating this unreservedly, it is important to explore the value patients attach to receiving such a letter and to estimate the cost of this practice. In order to explore patients' views of copy letters more fully, all patients attending dermatology outpatients at Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham during a week in October 2001 were sent copy letters and later interviewed by telephone using a structured questionnaire that gathered information on content, usage, clarity and perceived usefulness. Direct costs were also calculated. Of 70 patients invited to participate, 59 (85%) could be contacted by telephone at the 2-week follow-up period. Of those 59 patients contacted by telephone, surprisingly only 46 (78%) had actually received a copy letter at 14 days post-consultation. Of the 46 patients receiving a copy letter, 45 (98%) thought the information in the letter was consistent with their consultation; the letter was read a mean number of two times; nine patients (20%) understood most and 36 (78%) all of the letter; 25 (54%) found it useful and a further 21 (46%) found it very useful. Patients' views as to the value in receiving the letter included improved communication, recall and a sense of increased involvement in health care decisions. The direct total cost of sending a copy letter was 25.3 pence per patient. Consultants who participated in the exercise did not perceive any additional difficulties in implementing this practice. This small study found that 100% of patients receiving a copy letter found it useful. The fact that around one-fifth of patients did not receive such copy letters within 2 weeks as intended is worrying, and requires further investigation. Sending a copy letter involves a relatively trivial cost for a practice which patients view as a valuable resource.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care / economics
  • Communication
  • Correspondence as Topic*
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • England
  • Family Practice
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Medical Records* / economics
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Skin Diseases / economics
  • Skin Diseases / psychology
  • Skin Diseases / therapy*
  • Terminology as Topic