Background: With the public's increased use of the Internet, the use of email as a means of communication between patients and physicians will likely increase. Yet, despite evidence of increased interest by patients, e-mail use by physicians for clinical care has been slow.
Objective: To examine the factors associated with physician-patient e-mail, and report on the physicians' adherence to recognized guidelines for e-mail communication.
Methods: Cross-sectional survey (March-May, 2005) of all primary care physicians (n = 10253), and a 25% stratified, random sample of all ambulatory clinical specialists (n = 3954) in the state of Florida. Physicians were surveyed on email use with patients, adherence to recognized guidelines, and demographics.
Results: The 4203 physicians completed the questionnaire (a 28.2% participation rate). Of these, 689 (16.6%) had personally used e-mail to communicate with patients. Only 120 (2.9%) used e-mail with patients frequently. In univariate analysis, e-mail use correlated with physician age (decreased use: age > 61; P = .014), race (decreased use: Asian background; P < .001), medical training (increased use: family medicine, P = .001; or surgical specialty, P = .007; but not internal medicine, P = .112), practice size (> 50 physicians, P < .001), and geographic location (urban 17.2% vs. rural, 7.9%; P < .001). Multivariate modeling showed that only practice size greater than 50 (OR = 1.94; 95% CI = 1.01-3.79) and Asian-American race (OR = 0.26; 95% CI = 0.14-0.49) were related to e-mail use with patients. Remarkably, only 46 physicians (6.7%) adhered to at least half of the 13 selected guidelines for e-mail communication.
Conclusions: This large survey of physicians, practicing in ambulatory settings, shows only modest advances in the adoption of e-mail communication, and little adherence to recognized guidelines for e-mail correspondence. Further efforts are required to educate both patients and physicians on the advantages and limitations of e-mail communication, and to remove fiscal and legal barriers to its adoption.