The utility of electronic mail as a medium for patient-physician communication

Arch Fam Med. 1994 Mar;3(3):268-71. doi: 10.1001/archfami.3.3.268.


Objective: To examine patients' knowledge, use, and attitudes regarding electronic mail communication with their family physicians.

Design: Mail survey.

Setting: A university-based family practice center.

Participants: Adult patients (18 years and older) of full-time faculty physicians at a university-based family practice center who had seen their physicians at lease once in the 10-month period between July 1, 1992, and April 30, 1993 (N = 4094). Subjects were eligible for participation if both they and their physicians had an electronic mail address at the University of Kentucky, Lexington (n = 117).

Intervention: None.

Main outcome measures: Patient-reported knowledge, use, and attitudes regarding the utility of electronic mail as a means of patient-physician communication.

Results: The response rate to the survey was 74% (n = 87). Patient-physician communication via electronic mail was positively perceived by patients for whom electronic mail was accessible Patient-physician communication via electronic mail was perceived to increase speed, convenience, and access to medical care. Electronic mail communication was perceived to be good for simple and nonurgent problems, such as refilling prescriptions, communicating laboratory results, and making appointments. Ninety percent of the patients who had corresponded with their physicians via electronic mail used the medium to discuss a medical problem.

Conclusions: Although electronic mail is not presently in wide use for patient-physician communication, there is great potential for its widespread acceptance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Office Automation*
  • Patients / psychology
  • Physician-Patient Relations*