• Article

The role of primary care non-physician clinic staff in e-mail communication with patients

BACKGROUND: Few studies have explicitly addressed how e-mail technology may affect non-physician clinic staff, even though these staff typically manage tasks well suited to e-mail communication such as requests for prescription renewals, laboratory and test results, and referral authorizations. GOAL: We conducted a survey of staff members at 10 primary care clinics in Boston to further evaluate non-physician staff attitudes towards e-mail use with patients. We subsequently re-surveyed staff at three of these clinics after the implementation of Patient Gateway, an application designed to facilitate secure electronic communication between patients and the clinics. RESULTS: Before Patient Gateway implementation, 88% of surveyed staff were already using e-mail at least once a day for work-related communication. Many of these staff members (24%) were already using e-mail with patients. Forty-eight percent of staff members thought that increasing e-mail use with patients could improve the quality of care their practices delivered. However, staff reported having some hesitations about increasing e-mail use with patients, mostly relating to security, confidentiality, and workload. After Patient Gateway implementation, users reported high satisfaction with the application and staff in general (users and non-users of Patient Gateway) felt more enthusiastic about increasing e-mail use with patients. CONCLUSIONS: In order to maximize the potential of staff-patient e-mail, it is important that concerns relating to security, confidentiality, and workflow are addressed, and patients must be given guidelines for the appropriate use of e-mail. Secure applications designed with these issues in mind are likely to be well received by staff members, and in turn physicians


Kittler, AF., Wald, J., Volk, LA., Pizziferri, L., Jagannath, Y., Harris, C., ... Bates, DW. (2004). The role of primary care non-physician clinic staff in e-mail communication with patients. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 73(4), 333-340.