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E-Mail Improves Dermatology Patient Management

One-third of e-mail messages, however, are 'thank you' notes

FRIDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- Using e-mail can improve communication between dermatologists and their patients, and it may be especially helpful for managing patients with chronic problems, according to a report in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Kevin Kia, B.S., of the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, and colleagues examined the content of 614 e-mail messages sent by patients, potential patients and physicians to a dermatologist in a university practice. The e-mails were sorted into categories: 20 percent came from other physicians; 17 percent from patients with clinical questions; 18 percent from patients seeking appointments; 7 percent from patients seeking referrals; 3 percent involved prescription refills; 31 percent were thank-you notes; and 17 percent were listed as other. Sixty-four percent were sent by established patients.

Clinical questions were more likely to be answered by return e-mail when posed by a physician, or when sent by established patients. Questions that could not be answered were from patients requiring consultation to determine treatment or because a clinical description by e-mail was insufficient to make a diagnosis.

"We believe this work supports the use of e-mail in dermatology as a practical means for broadening communication avenues, which ultimately enhances the doctor-patient relationship," the authors conclude. "That nearly one-third of all e-mails received in our study dealt primarily with 'thank you' correspondence suggests that e-mail dialogue can satisfy the original sender. However, at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, such cordiality could be considered an unnecessary use of e-mail resources and physician time."

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