Aim: To determine whether general practitioners (GPs) prefer structured computer-generated or standard dictated outpatient clinic letters.
Design: Questionnaire survey of all GPs referring patients to an open-access chest pain clinic at a district general hospital in London. The GPs were asked to compare three twinned examples of structured computer-generated and unstructured dictated letters.
Results: Of 93 respondents (response rate 77.5%), 75 (80.6%) preferred the computer-generated letter and 16 (17.2%) preferred the dictated letter (p < 0.0005). The preferred features of the computer-generated letter were its clear presentation, subheadings, and concise information. The computer-generated letter scored significantly higher than the dictated letter: for clarity, mean 8.2 vs 6.5 (p < 0.0005); content, mean 8.5 vs 6.9 (p < 0.0005); and readability, mean 8.2 vs 6.8 (p < 0.0005). The GPs in the survey considered a mean delay of 3.4 days to be acceptable for receiving the letter from the chest pain clinic.
Conclusion: GPs prefer structured computer-generated letters to unstructured dictated letters for patients referred to an open-access chest pain clinic. Computer-generated correspondence allows rapid feedback of information to the referring GP, one of the key requirements of open-access clinics.