Objective: To identify factors that can enhance the use of e-consultation in primary care. We investigated the barriers, demands and motivations regarding e-consultation among patients with no e-consultation experience (non-users).
Methods: We used an online survey to gather data. Via online banners on 26 different websites of patient organizations we recruited primary care patients with chronic complaints, an important target group for e-consultation. A regression analysis was performed to identify the main drivers for e-consultation use among patients with no e-consultation experience.
Results: In total, 1706 patients started to fill out the survey. Of these patients 90% had no prior e-consultation experience. The most prominent reasons for non-use of e-consultation use were: not being aware of the existence of the service, the preference to see a doctor and e-consultation not being provided by a GP. Patients were motivated to use e-consultation, because e-consultation makes it possible to contact a GP at any time and because it enabled patients to ask additional questions after a visit to the doctor. The use of a Web-based triage application for computer-generated advice was popular among patients desiring to determine the need to see a doctor and for purposes of self-care. The patients' motivations to use e-consultation strongly depended on demands being satisfied such as getting a quick response. When looking at socio-demographic and health-related characteristics it turned out that certain patient groups - the elderly, the less-educated individuals, the chronic medication users and the frequent GP visitors - were more motivated than other patient groups to use e-consultation services, but were also more demanding. The less-educated patients, for example, more strongly demanded instructions regarding e-consultation use than the highly educated patients.
Conclusion: In order to foster the use of e-consultation in primary care both GPs and non-users must be informed about the possibilities and consequences of e-consultation through tailored education and instruction. We must also take into account patient profiles and their specific demands regarding e-consultation. Special attention should be paid to patients who can benefit the most from e-consultation while also facing the greatest chance of being excluded from the service. As health care continues to evolve towards a more patient-centred approach, we expect that patient expectations and demands will be a major force in driving the adoption of e-consultation.