Background: The reasons that patients consult the clinic physician for common minor symptoms are not clearly defined. For seasonal epidemic events such as flu-like symptoms this characterization is relevant.
Objectives: To identify the factors that prompt patients to seek medical attention, and correlate patient behavior with different demographic and disease variables.
Methods: A random sample of 2,000 enrolled people aged 18-65 years and registered with eight primary care clinics located throughout Israel were asked to report whether they had had flu-like symptoms within the previous 3 months. Those who responded affirmatively (n = 346) were requested to complete an ad hoc questionnaire evaluating their treatment-seeking behavior.
Results: A total of 318 patients completed the questionnaire (92% response rate), of whom 271 (85%) consulted a physician and 47 (15%) did not. Those who sought medical assistance had more serious symptoms as perceived by them (cough, headache and arthralgia) (P < 0.05), and their main reason for visiting the doctor was "to rule out serious disease." Self-employed patients were more likely than salaried workers to visit the clinic to rule out serious disease (rather than to obtain a prescription or sick note or to reassure family). They also delayed longer before seeking treatment (P = 0.01).
Conclusion: In our study the majority of individuals with flu symptoms tended to consult a physician, though there were significant variations in the reasons for doing so, based on a combination of sociodemographic variables. We believe these findings will help primary care physicians to characterize their practices and to program the expected demand of flu-like symptoms.