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Suggested Guidelines for E-Mail Communication in Psychiatric Practice

J Clin Psychiatry 2003;64:799-806

Background: Physicians and patients are increasingly communicating with one another by e-mail concerning administrative issues, medications, and other aspects of care. The objective of this article is to review existing guidelines for general physicians communicating with patients by e-mail as the basis for developing more specific guidelines for psychiatric practice.

Method: We review e-mail guidelines previously developed by the American Medical Informatics Association, subsequently promulgated by the American Medical Association, and consider each suggestion for clinical and administrative practice from the perspective of psychiatric practice. Case vignettes illustrate several of these issues.

Results: We suggest expansion and/or modification of existing guidelines to address more directly issues of specific concern in psychiatric practice.

Conclusion: Existing general guidelines concerning the use of e-mail in medical practice are useful starting points for psychiatric practice. Psychiatrists must pay particular attention to issues of confidentiality, communicative tone, and professional boundaries. With cautious application, e-mail may provide a useful tool for enhancing communication and treatment options for psychiatrists and their patients.