The origin, content, and workload of e-mail consultations

JAMA. 1998 Oct 21;280(15):1321-4. doi: 10.1001/jama.280.15.1321.


Context: Despite the common use of e-mail, little beyond anecdote or impressions has been published on patient-clinician e-mail consultation.

Objective: To report our experiences with free-of-charge e-mail consultations.

Design: Retrospective review of all e-mail consultation requests received between November 1, 1995, and June 31, 1998.

Setting and participants: Consecutive e-mail consultation requests sent to the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology at the Children's Medical Center of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Main outcome measures: Number of consultation requests per month, time required to respond, who initiated the request and their geographic origin, and the kind of information requested in the consultation.

Results: During the 33-month period studied, we received 1239 requests, an average (SD) of 37.6 (15.9) each month. A total of 1001 consultation requests (81%) were initiated by parents, relatives, or guardians, 126 (10%) by physicians, and 112 (9%) by other health care professionals. Consultation requests were received from 39 states and 37 other countries. In 855 requests (69%), there was a specific question about the cause of a particular child's symptoms, diagnostic tests, and/or therapeutic interventions. In 112 (9%), the requester sought a second opinion about diagnosis or treatment for a particular child, and 272 consultations (22%) requested general information concerning a disorder, treatment, or medication without reference to a particular child. A total of 1078 requests (87%) were answered within 48 hours of the initial request. On average, reading and responding to each e-mail took slightly less than 4 minutes.

Conclusion: E-mail provides a means for parents, guardians, and health care professionals to obtain patient and disease-specific information from selected medical consultants in a timely manner.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Computer Communication Networks*
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Pediatrics
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Workload*