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Thong JF, Mok P, Loke D
Correspondence: Dr Jiun Fong Thong, firstname.lastname@example.org
Introduction Communication between medical specialists and primary care providers in the community plays a pertinent role in patient care and doctor education. Referral and reply letters are the most common means by which doctors exchange information. Much of clinician time is spent writing letters, but the information or the format in which the letter is written may not meet the needs of the recipient. This study aimed to determine the type of reply letter preferred by general practitioners (GPs) and as such, attempts to improve communication between doctors as part of a quality assurance survey.
Methods Questionnaires were mailed out to 1,700 GPs in Singapore. Each questionnaire was accompanied by two sample reply letters from the Department of Otorhinolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. The sample letters were written in different formats. Letter 1 was written in a non-structured, free text format and Letter 2 included a structured summary at the beginning. Both letters contained the same amount of information and the same number of words.
Results A total of 535 replies (response rate 32 percent) were received. Letter 2 was preferred in 97 percent of the responses. 96 percent of the doctors found Letter 2 to be easier to read, while 86 percent felt it contained more information and 64 percent felt that Letter 1 took a longer time to read.
Conclusion Our study shows that there is a preference for diagnosis and treatment plan to be presented in a summary style report rather than as free text. A structured format for reply letters, including the use of headings, allows readers to easily identify the information desired and thus improves the quality of correspondence between specialists and GPs.
Keywords: correspondence, education, family physicians, healthcare, quality assurance specialisation
Singapore Med J 2010; 51(10): 796-799