A randomized, controlled, blinded clinical trial was conducted to determine if self-care instructions, coupled with a health education program, could reduce unnecessary visits to physicians for minor respiratory illness. A symptom-based algorithm was developed for determining the necessity of a physician visit and provided, along with a brief educational package on proper care of the common cold, to a randomly selected group of 433 families attending a family practice clinic. Subsequent clinic visits by family members were monitored and evaluated in relation to the algorithm, and results were compared with those obtained from a control group of 444 families. The subsequent rate of visits for upper respiratory tract infections classified as unnecessary using the algorithm was 44% lower in the test as compared with the control group, while the rate of necessary visits was only 15% lower. No increase was seen in complications of upper respiratory tract infections.