Objective. To determine 1) the electronic mail (e-mail) capabilities of families, general pediatricians (GPs), and subspecialty pediatricians (SPs) from an integrated pediatric health care delivery system and 2) the knowledge base and attitudes of these groups regarding the potential issues involved in using e-mail for physician-patient communication.
Methods. Parents were interviewed in the offices of participating practices using a standardized survey tool. Pediatricians and staff were interviewed using a separate instrument. The data were entered into a database for analysis.
Results. A total of 325 parents and 37 physicians were interviewed. Fifty-seven percent of the 161 parents who were interviewed at the GP offices and 66% of the 164 families that were interviewed at SP offices had access to e-mail. Parents aged 31 to 40 years were significantly more likely to have access to e-mail than parents of other age groups. Access to e-mail increased with family income and parental education. Most (74%) parents who were interviewed expressed interest in using e-mail to contact their child’s physician/physician’s office for several purposes, including getting information or test results, scheduling appointments, and/or discussing a particular symptom. Although both groups of parents expressed concerns about confidentiality, parents at the GP offices were significantly more concerned (medianGP = 95 vs medianSP = 70). Seventy-four percent of GPs and 100% of SPs had access to e-mail; however, 79% did not want to use e-mail for physician-patient communication, citing concerns about confidentiality and the time demands that patient e-mail might engender.
Conclusions. The majority of parents and pediatricians at both general and subspecialty pediatric offices are capable of communicating electronically. Parents and pediatricians are aware of the issues surrounding e-mail use for patient communication. Most parents express an interest in using e-mail for patient-physician communications, whereas most physicians are opposed to this practice.