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J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2005;33(4):465-75.

E-mail and the psychiatrist-patient relationship.

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  • 1Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.


E-mail correspondence between psychiatrists and patients raises numerous legal concerns with respect to the ethics of the doctor-patient relationship. Case law has shown that a doctor-patient relationship may be established in the absence of face-to-face contact. Despite this, a surprisingly high number of physicians respond to unsolicited e-mails, some even going so far as to suggest diagnoses or to offer advice. Courts may decide that a doctor-patient relationship exists where a psychiatrist has corresponded with a patient by e-mail. Psychiatrists may be faced with difficult ethics-related decisions regarding unsolicited e-mails from members of the public as well as e-mail from current patients and third parties, such as family members of patients. This article addresses relevant law and ethics guidelines and seeks to assist psychiatrists in making sound, ethical decisions about the professional use of e-mail.

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