James E. Rohrer, PhD, from the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, MN, and colleagues assessed delays in response to primary care patient secure e-mail communications from patients in treated in four clinics. A sample of over 300 messages, randomly selected from 7,322 messages collected for the study, were analyzed.
The researchers found that a minority of messages were not opened within 12 hours (8.5 percent) and 17.6 percent did not receive a response within 36 hours. Delays were not linked to clinic location, being an employee of the clinic, or patient sex. The response was more likely to be delayed for patients older than 50 years (25.7 percent delayed). On weekends, the risk of both kinds of delays was significantly increased.
"In a way, this shouldn't have surprised us," Rohrer said in a statement. "But 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."