Background: Few studies have explicitly addressed how e-mail technology may affect non-physician clinic staff, even though these staff typically manage tasks well suited to e-mail communication such as requests for prescription renewals, laboratory and test results, and referral authorizations.
Goal: We conducted a survey of staff members at 10 primary care clinics in Boston to further evaluate non-physician staff attitudes towards e-mail use with patients. We subsequently re-surveyed staff at three of these clinics after the implementation of Patient Gateway, an application designed to facilitate secure electronic communication between patients and the clinics.
Results: Before Patient Gateway implementation, 88% of surveyed staff were already using e-mail at least once a day for work-related communication. Many of these staff members (24%) were already using e-mail with patients. Forty-eight percent of staff members thought that increasing e-mail use with patients could improve the quality of care their practices delivered. However, staff reported having some hesitations about increasing e-mail use with patients, mostly relating to security, confidentiality, and workload. After Patient Gateway implementation, users reported high satisfaction with the application and staff in general (users and non-users of Patient Gateway) felt more enthusiastic about increasing e-mail use with patients.
Conclusions: In order to maximize the potential of staff-patient e-mail, it is important that concerns relating to security, confidentiality, and workflow are addressed, and patients must be given guidelines for the appropriate use of e-mail. Secure applications designed with these issues in mind are likely to be well received by staff members, and in turn physicians.