Background: Nearly half of the Norwegian population claim that they would like to use the internet to communicate with their general practitioner. A web-based system complying with Norway's strict statutory requirements for the processing of personal data was developed and tested in an effort to assess the implications of this mode of communication.
Material and method: The system was tested for one year in a group practice with six doctors. 200 patients were recruited and randomized into intervention and control groups. Data was collected through questionnaires, interviews and system logs.
Results: The 48 patients who used the system sent on average 3.3 messages, the six doctors sent between nine and 65 messages each. Traditional inquiries (visits, telephones) to the doctor averaged 3.2 and 4.5 for the intervention and control group respectively. 41% of the messages were inquiries about health issues, 22% were about renewals of prescriptions and sick leave notes, while 13% were requests for an appointment. Patients and doctors were both positive to this mode of communication. Patients who did not use the service said that they expected to use it in the future.
Interpretation: Electronic communication appears to replace some consultations and telephone inquiries. The study gives reason to expect that communication between patients and general practitioners over the internet will be more important in the future.