Patient confidentiality is paramount and making IT experts an integral part of any email-based research team is essential, says Dr Debbie Kralik from the University of South Australia.
"Researchers work to very strict ethical protocols" she says. "However, a variety of complex issues arise during email research that can make the application of traditional ethical standards, such as consent, identity and confidentiality, difficult."
Dr Kralik and her team from the School of Nursing and Midwifery have been using email as part of their joint research with the Royal District Nursing Service into how people live with chronic illness
Together with their technical expert - Dr Jim Warren from the University's Advanced Computer Research Centre - they have developed a 12-point plan which they feel may help other researchers considering email research.
"Using email has enabled us to carry out research with people over an extended period and at a time and pace that suits them, irrespective of geography. Because the people we are working with have chronic illnesses, it also enables us to include people who may not otherwise feel able to participate" adds Dr Kralik.
"But we need to approach this type of research carefully and ensure that as many safeguards as possible are put in place to protect participants."
A number of issues need to be considered before email research is undertaken. These include