Background: E-mail communication has the potential to improve communication between patients and doctors.
Objective: The objective of the study is to describe the access of patients to physicians who conduct e-mail consults.
Methods: We analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of office-based physician visits, in 2001, 2002, and 2003. The main outcome measure was the percentage of visits to a provider who reported doing internet or e-mail consults.
Results: There was fewer than 1 in 10 outpatient visits in 2001 (9.2%) to physicians who reported doing internet or e-mail consults, and this did not increase in 2002 (5.8%) or 2003 (5.5%). Access to these physicians was greater among patients who were male, nonminority, lived in the Western United States, seen for pre-/postoperative care, seen by a primary care provider, and not seen by a nurse during their visit. Access to physicians who conducted internet or e-mail consults was independent of other patient (e.g., chronic conditions), provider (e.g., office setting), and visit (e.g., medications prescribed) characteristics.
Conclusions: Access to physicians who do internet or e-mail consults is generally low and did not increase between 2001 and 2003, despite growth in internet access and in other internet-related activities.