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Original Article
February 1, 2008

E-mail Access and Improved Communication Between Patient and Surgeon

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: University of Sydney Endocrine Surgical Unit, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia.

Arch Surg. 2008;143(2):164-168. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2007.31

Objective  To examine the effectiveness of e-mail communication between surgeon and patient prior to elective surgery.

Design  Prospective randomized study.

Setting  Tertiary referral center.

Patients  One hundred consecutive patients presenting for consultation prior to undergoing thyroid or parathyroid surgery.

Intervention  All were randomized to either receiving an information sheet promoting e-mail communication as the preferred method of communication (group E) or a standard information sheet (group S).

Main Outcome Measures  (1) Use of communication with the surgeon outside of the booked preoperative and postoperative consultation and (2) satisfaction questionnaire.

Results  Overall, 26 of 100 patients (26%) initiated additional perioperative communication with the surgeon, 19 of 50 (38%) in group E and 7 of 50 (14%) in group S (P < .001). Of those who initiated communication, 22 of 26 (84%) did so by e-mail; 3 (12%), by fax; and 1 (4%), by telephone. For patients using e-mail, 18 of 22 (81%) were in group E and 4 of 22 (18%), in group S (P < .02). Overall, 34 e-mails were sent by 22 patients in the study group. Most e-mails sent focused on only 1 issue; however, some patients raised multiple issues, with the most being 4 issues in a single e-mail. There were no differences in any of the outcome measures in relation to patient satisfaction with communication.

Conclusion  Despite concerns about potential medicolegal issues and other disadvantages, providing patients undergoing elective surgery with e-mail access to their surgeon results in improved levels of communication without any demonstrated impairment of satisfaction with outcomes.