Intended for healthcare professionals


Automatic replies can be sent to unsolicited email from general public

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 27 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1433
  1. Christopher Oliver, consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon (c.w.oliver{at}
  1. Edinburgh Orthopaedic Trauma Unit, Royal Informary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH3 9YW

    EDITOR—Unsolicited email from patients and relatives asking for help is becoming a problem to regular medical internet users.1 Solicited email may well lead to an avalanche of unsolicited email, which might cause medicolegal problems for surgeons. We are still learning how we will control solicited email and videoconferencing requests from patients and the information overload problems that this will create. To attempt to “control” unsolicited email and indemnify ourselves I suggest that for every unsolicited email for advice this reply could be sent:

    “I am sorry but I cannot answer unsolicited medical questions sent from patients or relatives to me either by email or through my website. Clinical advice must be obtained from your general practitioner or surgeon. Unsolicited email asking for medical advice, surgical or physician referrals, and sources of medical information will not be answered.”

    The General Medical Council of the United Kingdom ( has given the following advice to doctors in relation to email consultations:

    “There are problems in providing email consultations because: (a) the doctor asked to discuss email cases will not know the patient's full details; (b) not all facts, including the findings from a physical examination of the patient and the medical history, may be known; (c) there will be no provision for the monitoring of a case or follow up care.

    “We would recommend other surgeons in a similar situation consider using an email reply statement like this to unsolicited email.”

    Doctors may wish to adapt this statement depending on their local conditions.


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