Informal medicine, entailing undocumented medical advice, has been described in diverse medical disciplines and geographical regions. We assessed the current prevalence and characteristics of informal medical consulting, the reasons physicians provide it, and their attitudes toward it.
We conducted a survey among family physicians in Israel, a country with a national health insurance system. A questionnaire was emailed to all primary care physicians in the two largest HMOs in southern Israel. Fifteen questions addressed the prevalence, practice and attitudes to informal medical consulting. Ten questions assessed demographics and professional experience.
Of 143 respondents (mean age 41 years), 55% were women. Ninety-five percent of the respondents reported requesting informal medical consulting from other physicians. Fifty-four percent reported often providing informal consulting to family and friends; and an additional 27% reported doing so under exceptional circumstances. The main reasons given for informal consulting requests were availability and accessibility (81% of respondents), and not financial savings. Only 17.5% stated being in favor of informal consulting for family and friends. Only 11% expressed feeling satisfaction after providing such consultation; 49% expressed discomfort. Sixty-six percent thought a position paper on informal consulting to family and friends is needed.
Our survey of primary care physicians shows very frequent informal medical consulting, despite high dissatisfaction with such, and an interest in receiving guidelines on this practice.