Australian Journal of Primary Health Australian Journal of Primary Health Society
The issues influencing community health services and primary health care

What doctors want? A consultation method when the patient is a doctor

Margaret Kay A C , Geoffrey Mitchell A and Alexandra Clavarino B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A The University of Queensland, Discipline of General Practice, 2nd Level Edith Cavell Building, Royal Brisbane Hospital Complex, Herston, Qld 4029, Australia.

B School of Pharmacy, Steele Building, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Primary Health 16(1) 52-59
Published: 17 March 2010


Doctors face many barriers accessing health care. Even after a doctor has adopted the patient role, quality health care can remain elusive. This study investigated the consultation between the treating doctor and the doctor-patient. We aimed to determine what doctors want within the consultation, their preferred consultation method. This qualitative study involved 37 GPs who participated in one of six independently facilitated focus groups. Data were recorded, transcribed and analysed for recurrent themes using an iterative inductive framework. Participants emphasised the importance of, and the difficulty in, establishing a relationship with a GP. This involved determining who to see and when to go to the doctor. Specific ways of strengthening the doctor–patient relationship were discussed, including understanding the illness experience, acknowledging the whole patient, setting boundaries, providing holistic care, developing rapport and participating in shared decision making. Empathy was especially important. Analysis revealed strong similarities with the ‘patient-centred consultation method’. Understanding the preferred consultation method for doctors will assist doctors in providing quality care to their peers. This is an important step in enhancing health access for doctors. Doctors want what patients want: care delivered within a patient-centred consultation. These insights may help other health professionals when treating or receiving care from their colleagues.

Additional keywords: attitude of health personnel, health behaviour, physician health, qualitative research.


Allibone A (1990) Who treats the doctor? The Practitioner 234, 984–987.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Arnold PC (1997) Do you have your own GP? Australian Medicine 9, 12.

Australian General Practice Network (2009). AGPN Home. Australian General Practice Network, Canberra. Available at [Verified 19 July 2009]

Bazeley P , Richards L (2000) ‘The NVivo qualitative project book.’ (Sage Publications: London)

Bird S (2008) Doctors as patients. Australian Family Physician 37(4), 256–257.
PubMed |

Bornstein BH, Marcus D, Cassidy W (2000) Choosing a doctor: an exploratory study of factors influencing patients’ choice of a primary care doctor. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 6(3), 255–262.
CrossRef | PubMed | CAS |

Breen KJ, Court JM, Katsoris J (1998) Impaired doctors. The modern approach of medical boards. Australian Family Physician 27(11), 1005–1008.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Caplan RP (1994) Stress, anxiety, and depression in hospital consultants, general practitioners, and senior health service managers. British Medical Journal 309(6964), 1261–1263.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Cassell EJ (1976) ‘The healer’s art. A new approach to the doctor–patient relationship.’ (JP Lippincott: Philadelphia, PA)

Center C, Davis M, Detre T, Ford D, Hansbrough W , et al . (2003) Confronting depression and suicide in physicians: a consensus statement. Journal of the American Medical Association 289(23), 3161–3166.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Chambers R, Campbell I (1996) Anxiety and depression in general practitioners: associations with type of practice, fundholding, gender and other personal characteristics. Family Practice 13(2), 170–173.
CrossRef | CAS |

Clavarino A, Najman J, Silverman D (1995) The quality of qualitative data: two strategies for analysing medical interviews. Qualitative Inquiry 1(2), 223–242.
CrossRef |

Davidson S, Schattner P (2003) Doctors’ health-seeking behaviour: a questionnaire survey. The Medical Journal of Australia 179(6), 302–305.
PubMed |

Department of Health and Ageing (2005) ‘General practice in Australia 2004.’ (Department of Health and Ageing: Canberra)

Field KS, Briggs DJ (2001) Socio-economic and locational determinants of accessibility and utilization of primary health-care. Health & Social Care in the Community 9(5), 294–308.
CrossRef | PubMed | CAS |

Groopman J (2007) ‘How doctors think.’ (Scribe Publications: Melbourne)

Gross CP, Mead LA, Ford DE, Klag MJ (2000) Physician, heal thyself?: regular source of care and use of preventive health services among physicians. Archives of Internal Medicine 160(21), 3209–3214.
CrossRef | PubMed | CAS |

Gulliford M , Morgan M (Eds) (2003) ‘Access to health care.’ (Routledge: London)

Kaufmann M (1998) When the patient is a doctor: becoming an effective physician’s physician. Ontario Medical Review 65(9), 50–51.

Kay M, Mitchell G, Del Mar C (2004) Doctors do not look after their own physical health. The Medical Journal of Australia 181(7), 368–370.
PubMed |

Kay M, Mitchell G, Clavarino A, Doust J (2008) Doctors as patients: a systematic review of doctors’ health access and the barriers they experience. The British Journal of General Practice 58(552), 501–508.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Kitzinger J (1995) Qualitative research. Introducing focus groups. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.) 311(7000), 299–302.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Klitzman R (2008) ‘When doctors become patients.’ (Oxford University Press: Oxford)

Krueger R.A. (1988) ‘Focus groups: a practical guide for applied research.’ (SAGE Publications: Newbury Park, CA)

Mandell H , Spiro H (1987) ‘When doctors get sick.’ (Plenium Medical Book Company: New York)

Mays N, Pope C (2000) Qualitative research in health care. Assessing quality in qualitative research. British Medical Journal 320(7226), 50–52.
CrossRef | PubMed | CAS |

Morgan DL (2004) Focus groups. In ‘Approaches to qualitative research. A reader on theory and practice’ . (Eds SN Hesse-Biber, P Leavy) pp. 263–285. (Oxford University Press: New York)

Parsons J (2001) The GP’s own healthcare. Can we learn to be patients? Australian Family Physician 30(7), 631.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Pope CE , Mays NE (2006) ‘Qualitative research in health care.’ (Blackwell Publishing – BMJ Books: Malden, MA)

Rabin D, Rabin P, Rabin R (1982) Compounding the ordeal of ALS. Isolation from my fellow physicians. The New England Journal of Medicine 307(8), 506–509.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Rosvold EO, Bjertness E (2002) Illness behaviour among Norwegian physicians. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 30, 125–132.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Salisbury CJ (1989) How do people choose their doctor? British Medical Journal 299(6699), 608–610.
CrossRef | PubMed | CAS |

Schattner PL, Coman GJ (1998) The stress of metropolitan general practice. The Medical Journal of Australia 169(3), 133–137.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Stewart M , Brown JB , Weston WW , McWhinney I , McWilliam CL , Freeman TR (2003) ‘Patient-centered medicine. Transforming the clinical method.’ (Radcliffe Medical Press: Abingdon, UK)

Stoudemire A, Rhoads J (1983) When the doctor needs a doctor: special considerations for the physician–patient. Annals of Internal Medicine 98(5), 654–659.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Thompson WT, Cupples ME, Sibbett CH, Skan DI, Bradley T (2001) Challenge of culture, conscience, and contract to general practitioners’ care of their own health: qualitative study. British Medical Journal 323(7315), 728–731.
CrossRef | PubMed | CAS |

Tolhurst H (2004) The black hole of depression: a personal perspective. The Medical Journal of Australia 181(7), 404–405.
PubMed |

Tolhurst HM, Talbot JM, Baker LL (2000) Women in rural general practice: conflict and compromise. The Medical Journal of Australia 173(3), 119–120.
PubMed | |  CAS |

Export Citation Cited By (3)