Physicians' use of email with patients: Factors influencing electronic communication and adherence to best practices

Robert G. Brooks, Nir Menachemi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

109 Scopus citations


Background: With the public's increased use of the Internet, the use of email as a means of communication between patients and physicians will likely increase. Yet, despite evidence of increased interest by patients, email use by physicians for clinical care has been slow. Objective: To examine the factors associated with physician-patient email, and report on the physicians' adherence to recognized guidelines for email communication. Methods: Cross-sectional survey (March-May, 2005) of all primary care physicians (n = 10253), and a 25% stratified, random sample of all ambulatory clinical specialists (n = 3954) in the state of Florida. Physicians were surveyed on email use with patients, adherence to recognized guidelines, and demographics. Results: The 4203 physicians completed the questionnaire (a 28.2% participation rate). Of these, 689 (16.6%) had personally used email to communicate with patients. Only 120 (2.9%) used email with patients frequently. In univariate analysis, email use correlated with physician age (decreased use: age > 61; P = .014), race (decreased use: Asian background; P < .001), medical training (increased use: family medicine, P = .001; or surgical specialty, P = .007; but not internal medicine, P = .112), practice size (> 50 physicians, P < .001), and geographic location (urban 17.2% vs. rural, 7.9%; P < .001). Multivariate modeling showed that only practice size greater than 50 (OR = 1.94; 95% CI = 1.01-3.79) and Asian-American race (OR = 0.26; 95% CI = 0.14-0.49) were related to email use with patients. Remarkably, only 46 physicians (6.7%) adhered to at least half of the 13 selected guidelines for email communication. Conclusions: This large survey of physicians, practicing in ambulatory settings, shows only modest advances in the adoption of email communication, and little adherence to recognized guidelines for email correspondence. Further efforts are required to educate both patients and physicians on the advantages and limitations of email communication, and to remove fiscal and legal barriers to its adoption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9P
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Electronic communication
  • Electronic records
  • Email
  • Health information technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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