Background: Improved communication from physician- patient emailing is an important element of patient centeredness. Physician-patient email use has been low; and previous data from Florida suggest that physicians who email with patients rarely implement best-practice guidelines designed to protect physicians and patients.
Objective: Our objective was to examine whether email use with patients has changed over time (2005-2008) by using two surveys of Florida physicians, and to determine whether physicians have more readily embraced the best-practice guidelines in 2008 versus 2005. Lastly, we explored the 2008 factors associated with email use with patients and determined whether these factors changed relative to 2005.
Methods: Our pooled time-series design used results from a 2005 survey (targeting 14,921 physicians) and a separate 2008 survey (targeting 7003 different physicians). In both years, physicians practicing in the outpatient setting were targeted with proportionally identical sampling strategies. Combined data from questions focusing on email use were analyzed using chi-square analysis, Fisher exact test, and logistic regression.
Results: A combined 6260 responses were available for analyses, representing a participation rate of 28.2% (4203/14,921) in 2005 and 29.4% (2057/7003) in 2008. Relative to 2005, respondents in 2008 were more likely to indicate that they personally used email with patients (690/4148, 16.6% vs 408/2001, 20.4%, c(2) (1) = 13.0, P < .001). However, physicians who reported frequently using email with patients did not change from 2005 to 2008 (2.9% vs 59/2001, 2.9%). Interest among physicians in future email use with patients was lower in 2008 (58.4% vs 52.8%, c(2) (2) = 16.6, P < .001). Adherence to email best practices remained low in 2008. When comparing 2005 and 2008 adherences with each of the individual guidelines, rates decreased over time in each category and were significantly lower for 4 of the 13 guidelines. Physician characteristics in 2008 that predicted email use with patients were different from 2005. Specifically, in multivariate analysis female physicians (OR 1.48, 95% CI 1.12-1.95), specialist physicians (OR 1.43, 95% CI 1.12-1.84), and those in a multispecialty practice (OR 1.76, 95% CI 1.30-2.37) were more likely than their counterparts to email with patients. Additionally, self-reported computer competency levels (on a 5-point Likert scale) among physicians predicted email use at every level of response.
Conclusions: Email use between physicians and patients has changed little between 2005 and 2008. However, future physician interest in using email with patients has decreased. More troubling is the decrease in adherence to best practices designed to protect physicians and patients when using email. Policy makers wanting to harness the potential benefits of physician-patient email should devise plans to encourage adherence to best practices. These plans should also educate physicians on the existence of best practices and methods to incorporate these guidelines into routine workflows.