Objectives: The objectives of this study were to assess patients' willingness to use e-mail to obtain specific test results, assess their expectations regarding response times, and identify any demographic trends.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of primary care patients was conducted in 19 clinics of a large multi-specialty group practice associated with an 186,000-member Health Maintenance Organization. The outcome measures were proportion of patients with current e-mail access, their willingness to use it for selected general clinical services and to obtain specific test results, and their expectations of timeliness of response.
Results: The majority of patients (58.3%) reported having current e-mail access and indicated strong willingness to use it for communication. However, only 5.8% reported having ever used it to communicate with their physician. Patients were most willing to use e-mail to obtain cholesterol and blood sugar test results, but less willing to use it to obtain brain CT scan results. Patients' expectations of timeliness were generally very high, particularly for high-stakes tests such as brain CT scan. Significant differences of willingness and expectations were found by age group, education, and income.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that most patients are willing to use e-mail to communicate with their primary care providers even for specific test results and that patients will hold providers to high standards of timeliness regarding response. The implication is that integration of e-mail communications into primary care ought to assure prompt and accurate patient access to a plethora of specific clinical services.