Background: The internet is increasingly used for health matters, including consulting a doctor. Primary care physicians (general practitioners) will probably be involved in performing text-based consultations on the internet as a complement to physical meetings. In the present study, we explored the experiences of GPs already performing consultations on the internet: the challenges, worries and educational demands of the task.
Materials and methods: A questionnaire was given to 21 GPs performing consultations on the internet for a public, non-commercial 'ask the doctor' service. The questionnaire was carried out at a meeting or sent by mail. The doctors answered a total of 28 questions, 12 of which included graded alternatives.
Results: The participating GPs were stimulated and challenged by performing consultations on the internet with previously unknown enquirers, in spite of limitations caused by the lack of personal meetings and physical examinations. The participants experienced a high educational value as a result of the problem-based learning situation induced by unfamiliar questions. The asynchronous feature was appreciated as it allowed time to reflect and perform relevant information searches before replying. Prior training and long-term experience as a family doctor were recommended before embarking on this method of consultation.
Conclusions: We conclude that the GPs studied experienced their new role as internet doctors mainly in a positive way, with some limitations. With the increase in consultations on the internet, training in this technique should be integrated into the curricula of medical schools and of continuous professional development (CPD).