Objectives: To explore doctors' perceptions of the acceptable limits to self-treatment and to identify barriers to doctors seeking appropriate healthcare.
Design: Self-completion, postal survey using three hypothetical case vignettes.
Setting and participants: 896 Australian doctors randomly selected from the Health Insurance Commission database and stratified by sex, discipline (general practitioner or specialist) and location (urban or rural). Data were collected between May and July 2001.
Main outcome measures: Doctors' self-reported attitudes on illness behaviour and choice of medical care in response to case vignettes.
Results: 358 (40%) doctors returned questionnaires. More participants believed it was acceptable to self-treat acute conditions (315/351; 90%) than to self-treat chronic conditions (88/350; 25%). Nine per cent (30/351) of participants believed it was acceptable to self-prescribe psychotropic medication. A greater proportion of GPs (206/230; 90%) than specialists (101/121; 83%) believed doctors are reluctant to attend another doctor, especially if the problem is psychological. Women and GPs were significantly less likely to report that it was easy to find a satisfactory treating doctor (women, 58/140 [41%]; men, 128/211 [61%]; GPs, 106/231 [46%]; specialists, 80/120 [67%]). Being a specialist was predictive of seeking appropriate healthcare for all three vignettes.
Conclusion: Doctors have varying opinions regarding the acceptability of self-treating chronic conditions, and perceive considerable barriers to seeking appropriate medical care. Strategies are needed to challenge the culture of self-reliance.