Complexity and Simplicity in Doctor–Patient Email Consultations
Keywords:E-consultation, Doctor-patient communication, Complexity, Denmark, General practice, Simplicity
New technologies have facilitated doctor–patient email consultations (e-consultations). Guidelines for e-consultation use in Denmark state that they should be used for simple, concrete and non-urgent queries; however, a small-scale Danish study suggested that doctors encounter e-consultations that do not match the guidelines. The purpose of this article is to explore whether e-consultations in Denmark reflect recommendations that they should be simple, short, concrete and well defined, and if not, what forms of complexity are evident. We inductively analysed 1,671 e-consultations from 38 patients aged 21–91 years communicating with 28 doctors, 6 nurses, 1 medical student and 8 secretaries. Results showed both quantitative complexity in terms of number of interaction turns, communicative participants, and questions asked, and qualitative complexity relating to patients’ psychosocial contexts and GPs’ biomedical disease perspective. Thus, despite existing guidelines and the leanness associated with the email medium, multiple forms of complexity were evident. This mismatch highlights the need for theoretical development as well as the value of re-examining existing policies and guidelines regarding expectations for e-consultation use.
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