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Journal Articles Journal of Medical Internet Research Year : 2021

The Epidemiology of Patients' Email Addresses in a French University Hospital: Case-Control Study

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Abstract

Background Health care professionals are caught between the wish of patients to speed up health-related communication via emails and the need for protecting health information. Objective We aimed to analyze the demographic characteristics of patients providing an email, and study the distribution of emails’ domain names. Methods We used the information system of the European Hospital Georges Pompidou (HEGP) to identify patients who provided an email address. We used a 1:1 matching strategy to study the demographic characteristics of the patients associated with the presence of an email, and described the characteristics of the emails used (in terms of types of emails—free, business, and personal). Results Overall, 4.22% (41,004/971,822) of the total population of patients provided an email address. The year of last contact with the patient is the strongest driver of the presence of an email address (odds ratio [OR] 20.8, 95% CI 18.9-22.9). Patients more likely to provide an email address were treated for chronic conditions and were more likely born between 1950 and 1969 (taking patients born before 1950 as reference [OR 1.60, 95% CI 1.54-1.67], and compared to those born after 1990 [OR 0.56, 95% CI 0.53-0.59]). Of the 41,004 email addresses collected, 37,779 were associated with known email providers, 31,005 email addresses were associated with Google, Microsoft, Orange, and Yahoo!, 2878 with business emails addresses, and 347 email addresses with personalized domain names. Conclusions Emails have been collected only recently in our institution. The importance of the year of last contact probably reflects this recent change in contact information collection policy. The demographic characteristics and especially the age distribution are likely the result of a population bias in the hospital: patients providing email are more likely to be treated for chronic diseases. A risk analysis of the use of email revealed several situations that could constitute a breach of privacy that is both likely and with major consequences. Patients treated for chronic diseases are more likely to provide an email address, and are also more at risk in case of privacy breach. Several common situations could expose their private information. We recommend a very restrictive use of the emails for health communication.

Dates and versions

hal-03476768 , version 1 (13-12-2021)

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Vincent Looten, Antoine Neuraz, Nicolas Garcelon, Anita Burgun, Gilles Chatellier, et al.. The Epidemiology of Patients' Email Addresses in a French University Hospital: Case-Control Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2021, 23 (2), pp.e13992. ⟨10.2196/13992⟩. ⟨hal-03476768⟩
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