This is the first study from Austria about attitudes and experiences of both patients and doctors in GP-teaching practices. The results show that the motivation to be a preceptor is primarily driven by personal and professional values rather than by economic incentives. Further, patients have an even more positive attitude towards the presence of students during their consultation than the preceptors. Therefore, the possible concern of compromising the patient-doctor relationship in a teaching practice is unwarranted.
Doctors (Table 1) felt positively challenged as role models, almost never felt disturbed and were positively motivated by a student’s presence. Their positive attitude was related to professional values, the desire to act as teachers and to stay in contact with students. To receive remuneration was least important. However, since the preceptors in fact receive a reasonable remuneration, their response to this question might be biased. We consider an appropriate remuneration as important because it would demonstrate that the Medical University appreciates and respects the contribution of the preceptors to the teaching program; this in turn would facilitate the recruitment of more teaching practices and their long term commitment to teaching competence. On the other hand, former studies also have shown that the personal motivation for clinical teaching was considered more important than administrative and financial matters . As can also be seen in Table 1, the presence of a student requires additional time of the preceptor. Similar results have been reported in other studies [12–15]. For example, time at work increased by 52 minutes per day and between 2 and 20 minutes per patient.
More than half of patients of both groups had been attending in the respective practices for more than 10 years (Table 2). However, patients of the WR-group consulted significantly more often. This is most likely due to the fact that this group consists of both patients to be personally seen by the GP and those with chronic conditions who require repeat prescriptions only from the administrative personnel. Additionally, some 20% to 36% had previously no experience with a student present during their consultation. This reflects the rather short implementation period of obligatory teaching activities in General Practice in Austria.
Table 3 shows the response of patients to specific statements. Significantly fewer patients in the AC-group agreed with “I would prefer to be examined alone”, “to see my doctor alone” and “my problem is too personal”. Although we were not able to compare the change of opinion in individual patients, nevertheless it appears that the experience of patients during the consultation in the presence of a student might have influenced their attitude. A similar observation has been made by Cooke et al. 1996 . Further, less than 5% of patients in both groups were concerned about compromised confidentiality (Table 3, item 5). In contrast, doctors were more concerned about confidentiality than patients (Table 1, item 9). Our results are in agreement with two other studies [17, 18]. More patients in the WR group than in the AC group estimated that the presence of a student would make the consultation last longer (Table 3, items 6 and 7).
As shown in Table 4, significantly more patients who attended the practice for more than 10 years stated that the doctor spent more time. Being personally examined or questioned by students rarely seemed to need additional time (subgroup analysis, data not shown). On the other hand, patients welcomed explanations of the doctor to the student because these helped them too (Table 3, item 8); this was especially seen in older patients (data not shown). These results seem to indicate that a deviation from the usual consultation style in the presence of a student may be more prominently experienced by well known patients.
Since our questionnaire contained a total of 10 specific questions it seems reasonable to identify those of highest relevance. Using Cronbach alpha questions 1–5 turned out to be of utmost importance (Table 3). This confirms the priority of privacy for patients. Intimacy ranked high in other studies too. A study of 4 practices in Germany found that 81% of patients accepted that a student was present. However, 9% declared that they concealed information then . Up to 10% of responders questioned by O´Flynn left the consultation without saying what they wanted to say and 30% found it more difficult to talk about personal matters . Monnickendam reported that 3.2% of the participants objected to the presence of a student during the consultation; 15% would insist on advance notification about the presence of a student, and another 13.9% would request it. Four percent stated that the presence of students had a negative influence on the physical examination and history taking and 33% would refuse to be examined by a student without the doctor´s presence . In a study by Cooke only 3% of respondents expressed negative feelings about having a medical student present whereas 51% felt positively . Overall, the percentage of patients who object to a teaching situation during their consultation is surprisingly small. Our study confirms a similar positive attitude of patients for Austria (Table 3). Nevertheless, their concern or objection must not be neglected.
There are several strengths in our study. For the first time both doctors and patients have been studied in Austria using similar questionnaires which enabled us to make a comparative assessment of doctors’ and patients’ opinions and observations. The sample size is large enough to analyze subgroups such as gender or age of patients or their length of practice attachment. Further, the response rate among doctors was high (80%). Finally, the assessment took place at a rather early stage of implementation of community teaching at our Medical University. This should enable curricular adjustments based on research evidence.
Weaknesses include limited anonymity for the preceptors. However, since the remuneration played a minor part in the overall motivation we did not anticipate a relevant selection bias because of that reason. Further, patients had to sign a lengthy 5-page informed consent form to be included in the study. This might have demotivated some patients to participate. Secondly, the 2 study arms (WR and AC groups) consisted of different respondents with a possible but unlikely overlap. Thirdly, our self designed questionnaire was not thoroughly validated before the study. Patients had to answer the questionnaire while still present in the GP office which might have introduced a response bias in favor of the processes that happen at the office. Further, although the missingness in the item response was only 4% the actual response rate cannot be calculated.