SYDNEY, Australia, Feb. 18 — The e-mail has triumphed in a small randomized trial of communications between a surgeon here and patients awaiting elective thyroid or parathyroid procedures.
Under the rules established for the back-and-forth emails, the patients liked the approach, the surgeon found it efficient and convenient, and the lawyers kept their distance.
“There are clearly major advantages associated with the use of e-mail as a means of communication between surgeon and patient,” Leigh Delbridge, M.D., of the University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital, and colleagues reported in the February issue of the Archives of Surgery.
“It avoids interruptions to office routine by avoiding the need to answer telephone calls from patients at all times of the day or having to engage in ‘phone tag’ if calls are answered at the end of the day’s work.
“E-mail responses can also be written undisturbed, with appropriate thought being given to the reply, ensuring that it is composed and accurate, something not readily achieved with a hurried telephone conversation.
“Copies of e-mails kept in the file provide clear and indisputable evidence of the responses provided, an invaluable resource should litigation ensue.
“Many of the responses in this study also demonstrated that many patients ‘open up’ when using e-mail communication and often ask questions or raise personal issues that they may have felt inhibited about in a face-to-face consultation.”
From the patients’ standpoint, “we demonstrated that making e-mail access available to patients after their initial preoperative consultation significantly increased the level of patient communication without any detectable downside.
“This study now confirms that, in the setting of a prospective randomized controlled clinical trial, patients encouraged to use e-mail access have significantly increased the level of preoperation interaction, without any reduction in measured satisfaction outcomes.”
In the controlled randomized study of 100 patients having thyroid or parathyroid surgery by the same surgeon, altogether, 22 e-mailed their surgeon requesting general information, recovery information, or reassurance, Dr. Delbridge and colleagues reported.
In the study, 50 patients (mean age 45.1, 40 women) were randomly assigned to receive an information sheet including the surgeon’s e-mail address and a statement informing them that e-mail was the surgeon’s preferred method of communication.
Another 50 patients (mean age 48.2, 42 women), received an information sheet without the surgeon’s e-mail address. However, all patients received an appointment card and Web site information that contained the surgeon’s e-mail address.
In this study, 81% of all the patients had ready access to e-mail and the Internet.
Overall, 26 of 100 patients initiated additional perioperative communication by any means. Nineteen (38%) were in the e-mail group, and seven (14%) used information on the standard sheet (P