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E-mail consultations could improve health care delivery claim researchers


Greater use of e-mail consultations could be beneficial to patients according to research from Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh.

The research, published today in the British Medical Journal, looked at the extent of e-mail consultations already occurring, and measured the opinions of doctors and patients on their effectiveness.

Dr Josip Car from Imperial College London, based at Charing Cross Hospital, and co-author of the research, comments: "With such a large proportion of the population now with access to e-mail, it seems unusual that this method of communication, so essential for many, is so underused by doctors and patients. This review has shown that there are definite advantages to the increased use of e-mail for patient-doctor consultations."

The researchers found a considerable number of advantages to increasing the use of e-mail. These included saving time for both the patient and doctor, particularly as e-mail can be accessed from almost anywhere. They also found e-mail reduced the need for face-to-face consultations, particularly when managing long-term problems such as weight loss or diabetes.

Other advantages include improved access to care for those with physical disabilities or living in remote areas, better opportunities for information sharing, and the chance of more speedy communications. In addition, many of these advantages could also have a knock on effect by potentially saving money through a more efficient use of a doctor’s time.

Professor Aziz Sheikh, from the University of Edinburgh, and co-author of the research adds: "Despite e-mail communication helping improve communication between patients and clinicians, it is not without its risks.

"Many patients increasingly want to be able to communicate with their doctors by e-mail, but the lack of an adequate supporting infrastructure could be a security issue, and many doctors are still concerned that e-mail consultations will not provide the same level of service for many patients. These issues are however not insurmountable and I look forward to the time when, just like in many other public services, people can choose to consult with their doctors face-to-face, by phone or by email."

Tony Stephenson | alfa
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