A content analysis of e-mail communication between primary care providers and parents

Shikha G. Anand, Mitchell J. Feldman, David S. Geller, Alice Bisbee, Howard Bauchner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Background. E-mail exchange between parents of patients and providers has been cited by the Institute of Medicine as an important aspect of contemporary medicine; however, we are unaware of any data describing actual exchanges. Objective. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the content of e-mails between providers and parents of patients in pediatric primary care, as well as parent attitudes about e-mail. Design/Methods. Over a 6-week period, all e-mail exchanges between 2 primary care pediatricians and their patients' parents were evaluated and coded. An exchange was defined as the e-mails between parent and primary care provider about a single inquiry. Parents also completed a questionnaire regarding this service. Results. Of 55 parents, 54 (98%) agreed to have their e-mails with their pediatrician reviewed. The 54 parents generated 81 e-mail exchanges; 86% required only 1 e-mail response from the pediatrician, and the other 14% required an average of 1.9 responses. E-mail inquiries were all for nonacute issues (as judged by S.G.A.) and included inquiries about a medical question (n = 43), medical update (n = 20), subspecialty evaluation (n = 9), and administrative issue (n = 9). The 81 exchanges resulted in 9 appointments, 21 phone calls, 4 subspecialty referrals, 34 prescriptions or recommendations for over-the-counter medications, 11 administrative tasks, and 1 radiograph. Of 91 pediatrician-generated e-mails, 39% were sent during the workday (9 AM to 5 PM, Monday to Friday), 44% were sent on weeknights, and 17% were sent on weekends. During the study period, the 2 physicians estimated an average of 30 minutes/day spent responding to e-mail. Of the 54 parents, 45 (83%) returned the survey; 93% were mothers and 86% had completed college. Ninety-eight percent were very satisfied with their e-mail experience with their pediatrician. Although 80% felt that all pediatricians should use e-mail to communicate with parents and 65% stated they would be more likely to choose a pediatrician based on access by e-mail, 63% were unwilling to pay for access. Conclusions. This is the first study to describe actual e-mail exchange between parents and their providers. Exchanges seem to be different from those generated by the telephone, with more e-mails related to medical versus administrative issues and more resulting in office visits. Approximately 1 in 4 exchanges result in multiple e-mails back and forth between parent and provider. Parents who have actually exchanged e-mails with their providers overwhelmingly endorse it, although they are reluctant to pay for it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1283-1288
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Computers
  • E-mail
  • Primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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