Timeline to See a Physician for Symptoms. Part III – Confidence and Advice-Seeking Tendencies


Jeff Taylor


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



The actions the public take in the face of illness depend on factors such as perceived severity, past experiences, and the level of confidence with any given set of symptoms. While reports exist on the public’s confidence in caring for themselves (including illness assessment), the perspectives tend to be global in nature. It is likely that such confidence will vary depending on the situation experienced. Part III of this study aimed to quantify the level of confidence in knowing when patients should seek medical care for 21 health-related situations and the likelihood of information/advice sources being accessed, from the perspectives of the public, pharmacists, and physicians.


A cross-sectional survey involving members of the general public, community pharmacists, and physicians was conducted in one Canadian province. To quantify the public’s confidence as to when patients should see a doctor, 21 cases were developed to reflect a variety of severity. Confidence was quantified along a nine-point scale. Each group also indicated the likelihood that four sources of advice/information would be considered by the public when dealing with the various cases.


298 responses were obtained from the general public, 260 from community pharmacists, and 59 were completed by physicians. Public confidence was lowest for the cases involving Low Back Pain, Tension Headache, Tinea Corporis, and Constipation, but highest for Chest Pain. The public exhibited less confidence with every situation relative to pharmacists’ and physicians’ expectations. Across most cases, healthcare providers predicted more information-seeking intentions than was estimated by the public. Internet health sites and friends/family were far less likely to be options for the public, who instead felt that professional input (often physicians) would be a more likely choice.


The public appears to deal with an important component of illness assessment – when to seek medical care – with confidence. Healthcare providers expressed a high degree of confidence in the public’s ability regarding this decision-point. Relative to four sources of help available to the public, physicians were deemed a more likely source when compared to pharmacists, internet health sites, and friends/family.

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