Digital consultation with primary care physicians via mobile telephone apps has been spreading rapidly in Sweden since 2014. Digital consultation allows remote working because physicians can work from home, outside their traditional primary care environment. Despite the spread of digital consultation in primary care, there is a lack of knowledge concerning how the new service affects physicians’ psychosocial work environment. Previous research has focused primarily on the patients’ point of view and the cost-effectiveness of digital consultation. Hence, there is a paucity of studies from the perspective of physicians, focusing on their psychosocial work environment. The aim of this study was to investigate primary care physicians’ perceived work demands, control over working processes, and social support when providing digital consultation to primary care patients.
The study has a qualitative design, using semi-structured interviews conducted in Sweden in 2019. We used a purposeful sampling strategy to achieve a heterogeneous sample of physicians who represented a broad spectrum of experiences and perceptions. The interviews were conducted by video meeting, telephone, or a personal meeting, depending on what suited the participant best. The interview questions were informed by the Job Demand-Control-Support (JDCS) model, which was also used as the framework to analyze the data by categorizing the physicians’ perceptions and experiences into the three categories of the model (Demand, Control, Support), in the deductive analysis of the data.
Analysis of the data yielded 9 subcategories, which were mapped onto the 3 categories of the JDCS model. Overall, the participants saw numerous benefits with digital consultations, not only with regard to their own job situation but also for patients and the health care system in general even though they identified some shortcomings and risks with digital care.
This study has demonstrated that physicians perceive working with digital consultation as flexible with a high grade of autonomy and reasonable to low demands. According to the participants, digital consultation is not something you can work with full time if medical skills and abilities are to be maintained and developed.