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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Use of email for patient communication in student health care: a cross-sectional study

Johanna Castrén123*, Marja Niemi4 and Irma Virjo1

Author Affiliations

1 Medical School, Department of General Practice, 33014 University of Tampere, Finland

2 Finnish Student Health Service, Töölönkatu 37, 00260 Helsinki, Finland

3 Pirkanmaa Hospital District, Department of General Practice, 33521 Tampere, Finland

4 STAKES, National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health, Box 220, 00531 Helsinki, Finland

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2005, 5:2  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-5-2

Published: 27 January 2005

Abstract

Background

Citizens increasingly use email in personal communication. It is not however clear to what extent physicians utilize it for patient communication. Our study was designed to examine physicians' activity in using email and to estimate the proportion of email messages missing from documentation in electronic patient records (EPR).

Methods

All physicians (n = 76; 48 general practitioners and 28 specialists) at the Finnish Student Health Service received a questionnaire by email, and were asked to print it and keep a daily tally of visits, phone calls and email messages over the study period of one working week (5.5. – 9.5.2003). The response rate was 70%. The data originating from the questionnaire were compared with statistical data from the EPR during the study period.

Results

The majority (79%, 41/52) of doctors reported using email with patients, averaging 8.6 (range: 0–96) email contacts and a percentage rate of "email / visit" 20% (range: 0–185%) in one working week. Doctors in the capital city region and those doctors who had a positive attitude toward email for patient communication were most active in email use. Up to 73% of email contacts were not documented in the EPR.

Conclusion

The activity in using email with patients verified among Finnish physicians is compatible with recent study results elsewhere. The notable proportion of un-recorded email messages establishes the need for an electric communication system built into the EPR to improve the quality of patient care and to limit medico-legal risks.