The use of the Internet is growing rapidly. Up to 70% of American Internet surfers use the Web for some kind of medical purpose. Only a few studies characterized the consulting population and their inquiries. The objective of this study was to define the content of queries and the characteristics of the consulting population in an open access 'Ask the family physician' non-commercial open forum. Data had been collected from the family medicine forum in www.doctors.co.il. This site has 10 - 15 new queries daily, and a physician reply is given on most occasions within 24 h. We analysed demographic characteristics and the content of the queries. In addition, we sent detailed questionnaires to 200 randomly selected consulters. We analysed 1,002 consecutive queries. The average age of the consulters was 31.8 years, 63.4% women. Women applied more often for someone else, compared to men (13.7 versus 8%p = 0.01). 82.2% applied to the forum for a first opinion on the subject matter. The most frequent subjects were: infectious diseases (7.3%), deciphering blood chemical analysis results (3.2%), vitamin B12 (3.2%), deciphering blood count analysis results (2.9%), Epstein - Barr virus and Cytomegalovirus (2.8%), and hypertension (2.4%). Only 10% (20/200) replied to our e-mail questionnaire. We described the characteristics of inquiries to a Web-based question answering service. Its consumers are mainly younger females who consult the virtual physician prior to consulting their own family physician. They mainly seek medical knowledge especially in interpreting laboratory tests and information about various medical conditions.
- Family physician
- Open forum