Background: Email is an established method of communication in business, leisure and education but not yet health care.
Aim: To evaluate an email service enabling communication between patients and their general practice regarding repeat prescriptions, appointment booking and clinical enquiries.
Design: Qualitative analysis of interactions and an electronic user survey.
Setting: An urban practice in Dundee, Scotland.
Participants: 150 patients aged 24 to 85.
Methods: We set up a practice facility to allow our patients to use email to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and consult their general practitioner (GP).
Results: Patient satisfaction with the service was very high. Patients specifically commended the practice for setting up a facility to allow communication outside standard working hours and for the ease of ordering repeat prescriptions. Patients were pleased to have a means of seeking their doctor's comment or opinion without bothering him or her by making and attending a formal face-to-face consultation. Email dialogue was polite, factual, but less formal than standard letters. Staff did not experience any perceptible rise in workload.
Conclusions: Use of an email consultation facility worked well within an urban practice, was deemed helpful by patients, and resulted in no apparent increase in GP workload. Our results suggest that there may be an unmet need amongst patients for clinical email services, and that such services may have positive outcomes for patients and practices.