Timeline to See a Physician for Symptoms. Part I – Perspective of the Public


Jeff Taylor, David Blackburn, Charity Evans, Eric Landry.


College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, E3108 Health Sciences, University of Saskatchewan.



An important responsibility of the public within healthcare systems is deciding whether to seek medical care during illness. This assessment will include when to seek care for symptoms that persist.


To determine when the public would seek medical care for a variety of situations, their confidence in what those timelines should be, and to quantify perceived case severity.


Just under 3000 citizens of one Canadian province were asked to complete an online survey. Of a repertoire of 21 cases involving a range of symptoms, responders provided feedback on 5. Seven timeline options relative to seeing a doctor were possible, ranging from right away to no real need. Ratings of case severity and responder confidence were quantified using 9-point scales.


Just under 300 surveys were completed. The lowest severity rating was a head cold at 1.7 (out of 9), followed by a chest cold (2.7). Acute chest pain was rated the most severe at 8.3. Most responders felt a person with a persisting head cold should see a physician in 2 weeks. A case of long-standing low back pain found that 18.2% of responders suggested waiting until the 4-week point for care. The public’s confidence was lowest for the cases involving Low Back Pain, Tension Headache, Tinea Corporis, and Constipation. A lack of personal experience generally led to lower confidence.


The public appeared to be sufficiently responsible and appropriately cautious in their assessment of when to seek medical care for 21 situations of varying severity.

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