HealthDay News — Primary care patients who use secure electronic messaging systems to communicate with their healthcare providers may face delays in response, particularly when they send their email on the weekend, study results show.
In a random sample of more than 300 messages sent via a secure email system at four primary care clinics, 8.5% of messages remained unopened within 12 hours of being sent, and 17.6% had not yet received a response within 36 hours, James E. Rohrer, PhD, of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues reported in Quality Management in Health Care.
On weekends, the risk of both kinds of delays was significantly increased (P<0.001 for both).
“In a way, this shouldn’t have surprised us,” Rohrer said in a statement. “The fact is, most people don’t work on the weekends. The clinicians are not there, and these things pile up in their in-boxes, and no one is responding.”
Responses were more likely to be delayed for patients aged older than 50 years — 25.7% of messages sent by this group had not received a response within 36 hours (P=0.013). Clinic location, being a clinic employee and patient sex were not associated with delays.
Potential solutions to this problem include “automatic rerouting of messages to message centers staffed 24/7 or other mechanisms to manage this after-hours work flow,” the researchers wrote.