Use of email in communication between the Finnish primary healthcare system and general practitioners

Tuula Karhula, Timo Kauppila, Outi Elonheimo, Mats Brommels


Background The volume of emails is rising rapidly everywhere. However, there is no data available concerning how primary healthcare physicians feel about the use of email communication between themselves, with their managers and with other people contacting them.
Objective The objective of this study was to find out what the attitudes of primary care physicians are towards email at work.
Methods The use of email was studied among a convenience sample of primary healthcare physicians.
Results Physicians thought that email was a good instrument for delivering information but not as an instrument for leadership. Physicians in lead positions thought more often than ordinary general practitioners (GPs) that email is good for information. The leaders used email more actively than other GPs. The contents of the emails received by the GPs differed depending on the site of work. The total number of emails was higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Emails relating to administration, educational information and meeting materials were more often sent in rural than in urban primary healthcare settings. Information about daily work arrangements and about social events were more frequently emailed in urban than in rural surroundings. Email was considered important for information inside the system but a somewhat difficult tool for discussing complicated subjects. Generally, it was agreed that there was some unimportant information filtering through this medium to the target GPs. GPs were uncertain whether important data reached everybody who needed it or not. Still, almost everybody used the email system regularly and the use of it was considered relatively easy. GPs were generally prone to adopt advice and instructions given via email and implemented those in their working routines. The use of the email system was related to technical ability to use the system. The easier the GP thought that the email system was the more he used it. Rural GPs were more critical in applying advice shared via email than their counterparts in urban areas. In general, physicians thought that email was a good method for reaching many people at the same time. However, the main points of the messages may be missed and the whole email may sometimes not be read.
Conclusion Especially during periods of change in the workplace, it is very important that management is conducted personally. Care must be taken so that disinformation does not spoil the informative value of email in the administration of primary health care. The needed technical assistance should be given to everyone in order to get the best advantage from the use of the email system.


administration; communication; email; general practitioners; primary health care

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