Where have all the copy letters gone? A review of current practice in professional-patient correspondence

Patient Educ Couns. 2008 May;71(2):259-64. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2007.12.002. Epub 2008 Jan 25.


Objective: This article reviews the literature in relation to patients receiving copies of health professional correspondence. It examines progress in adopting the practice 3 years on from its introduction as policy in the UK, and considers potential benefits and obstacles to implementation.

Methods: A review of the literature on copy correspondence, accessed via Medline, PubMed, CINAHL and also online resources, using the search terms "patient letter", "copy letter", "copy correspondence" and "doctor letter".

Results: Studies describe a range of benefits from copying letters, but implementation remains inconsistent, ranging from 8 to 87% of patients reporting receiving copy correspondence. A number of concerns are identified which may be delaying whole scale adoption of the policy by health professionals.

Conclusion: This review suggests that researchers should move from examining the benefits and concerns around copying letters to patients, and instead focus on exploring the quality of correspondence and the optimum process of implementing the practice. As patients can "opt out" of receiving copy correspondence, audit of service delivery may be better assessed by whether patients have been offered a letter, rather than the current measure of whether one has been received.

Practice implications: Copying letters to patients may have a number of important benefits and should be routine practice where patients wish to receive correspondence. Further discussion regarding the style and content of letters would be beneficial, together with attention paid to the mechanisms for recording patient preference. There is also a need for studies in non-medical professions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Confidentiality
  • Copying Processes / methods
  • Copying Processes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Correspondence as Topic*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Medical Records
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Patient Access to Records
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / organization & administration*
  • United Kingdom