JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Email for clinical communication between healthcare professionals

Yannis Pappas, Helen Atherton, Prescilla Sawmynaden, Josip Car
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, (9): CD007979
22972116

BACKGROUND: Email is a popular and commonly-used method of communication, but its use in healthcare is not routine. Where email communication has been utilised in health care, its purposes have included use for clinical communication between healthcare professionals, but the effects of using email in this way are not known. This review assesses the use of email for two-way clinical communication between healthcare professionals.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of healthcare professionals using email to communicate clinical information, on healthcare professional outcomes, patient outcomes, health service performance, and service efficiency and acceptability, when compared to other forms of communicating clinical information.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched: the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Review Group Specialised Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 1 2010), MEDLINE (OvidSP) (1950 to January 2010), EMBASE (OvidSP) (1980 to January 2010), PsycINFO (1967 to January 2010), CINAHL (EbscoHOST) (1982 to February 2010), and ERIC (CSA) (1965 to January 2010). We searched grey literature: theses/dissertation repositories, trials registers and Google Scholar (searched July 2010). We used additional search methods: examining reference lists, contacting authors.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials, quasi-randomised trials, controlled before and after studies and interrupted time series studies examining interventions in which healthcare professionals used email for communicating clinical information, and that took the form of 1) unsecured email 2) secure email or 3) web messaging. All healthcare professionals, patients and caregivers in all settings were considered.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two authors independently assessed studies for inclusion, assessed the included studies' risk of bias, and extracted data. We contacted study authors for additional information. We report all measures as per the study report.

MAIN RESULTS: We included one randomised controlled trial involving 327 patients and 159 healthcare providers at baseline. It compared an email to physicians containing patient-specific osteoporosis risk information and guidelines for evaluation and treatment with usual care (no email). This study was at high risk of bias for the allocation concealment and blinding domains. The email reminder changed health professional actions significantly, with professionals more likely to provide guideline-recommended osteoporosis treatment (bone density measurement and/or osteoporosis medication) when compared with usual care. The evidence for its impact on patient behaviours/actions was inconclusive. One measure found that the electronic medical reminder message impacted patient behaviour positively: patients had a higher calcium intake, and two found no difference between the two groups. The study did not assess primary health service outcomes or harms.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: As only one study was identified for inclusion, the results are inadequate to inform clinical practice in regard to the use of email for clinical communication between healthcare professionals. Future research needs to use high-quality study designs that take advantage of the most recent developments in information technology, with consideration of the complexity of email as an intervention, and costs.

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