Can E-mail messages between patients and physicians be patient-centered?

Debra L. Roter, Susan Larson, Daniel Z. Sands, Daniel E. Ford, Thomas Houston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


This study explores the extent to which e-mail messages between patients and physicians mimic the communication dynamics of traditional medical dialogue and its fulfillment of communication functions. Eight volunteers drawn from a larger study of e-mail users agreed to supply copies of their last 5 e-mail messages with their physicians and the physician replies. Seventy-four e-mail messages (40 patient and 34 physician) were provided and coded using the Roter Interactive Analysis System. The study found that physicians' e-mails are shorter and more direct than those of patients, averaging half the number of statements (7 vs. 14; p .02) and words (62 vs. 121; p .02). Whereas 72% of physician and 59% of patient statements were devoted to information exchange, the remaining communication is characterized as expressing and responding to emotions and acting to build a therapeutic partnership. Comparisons between e-mail and with face-to-face communication show many similarities in the address of these tasks. The authors concluded that e-mail accomplishes informational tasks but is also a vehicle for emotional support and partnership. The patterns of e-mail exchange appear similar to those of in-person visits and can be used by physicians in a patient-centered manner. E-mail has the potential to support the doctor-patient relationship by providing a medium through which patients can express worries and concerns and physicians can be patient-centered in response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-86
Number of pages7
JournalHealth communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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