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1.  An ethnographic exploration of influences on prescribing in general practice: why is there variation in prescribing practices? 
Background
Prescribing is a core activity for general practitioners, yet significant variation in the quality of prescribing has been reported. This suggests there may be room for improvement in the application of the current best research evidence. There has been substantial investment in technologies and interventions to address this issue, but effect sizes so far have been small to moderate. This suggests that prescribing is a decision-making process that is not sufficiently understood. By understanding more about prescribing processes and the implementation of research evidence, variation may more easily be understood and more effective interventions proposed.
Methods
An ethnographic study in three Scottish general practices with diverse organizational characteristics. Practices were ranked by their performance against Audit Scotland prescribing quality indicators, incorporating established best research evidence. Two practices of high prescribing quality and one practice of low prescribing quality were recruited. Participant observation, formal and informal interviews, and a review of practice documentation were employed.
Results
Practices ranked as high prescribing quality consistently made and applied macro and micro prescribing decisions, whereas the low-ranking practice only made micro prescribing decisions. Macro prescribing decisions were collective, policy decisions made considering research evidence in light of the average patient, one disease, condition, or drug. Micro prescribing decisions were made in consultation with the patient considering their views, preferences, circumstances and other conditions (if necessary).
Although micro prescribing can operate independently, the implementation of evidence-based, quality prescribing was attributable to an interdependent relationship. Macro prescribing policy enabled prescribing decisions to be based on scientific evidence and applied consistently where possible. Ultimately, this influenced prescribing decisions that occur at the micro level in consultation with patients.
Conclusion
General practitioners in the higher prescribing quality practices made two different ‘types’ of prescribing decision; macro and micro. Macro prescribing informs micro prescribing and without a macro basis to draw upon the low-ranked practice had no effective mechanism to engage with, reflect on and implement relevant evidence. Practices that recognize these two levels of decision making about prescribing are more likely to be able to implement higher quality evidence.
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-8-72
PMCID: PMC3693908  PMID: 23799906
Prescribing; Quality; General practice; Primary care; Ethnographic; Qualitative
2.  Use of UKCAT scores in student selection by UK medical schools, 2006-2010 
BMC Medical Education  2011;11:98.
Background
The United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is a set of cognitive tests introduced in 2006, taken annually before application to medical school. The UKCAT is a test of aptitude and not acquired knowledge and as such the results give medical schools a standardised and objective tool that all schools could use to assist their decision making in selection, and so provide a fairer means of choosing future medical students.
Selection of students for UK medical schools is usually in three stages: assessment of academic qualifications, assessment of further qualities from the application form submitted via UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) leading to invitation to interview, and then selection for offer of a place. Medical schools were informed of the psychometric qualities of the UKCAT subtests and given some guidance regarding the interpretation of results. Each school then decided how to use the results within its own selection system.
Methods
Annual retrospective key informant telephone interviews were conducted with every UKCAT Consortium medical school, using a pre-circulated structured questionnaire. The key points of the interview were transcribed, 'member checked' and a content analysis was undertaken.
Results
Four equally popular ways of using the test results have emerged, described as Borderline, Factor, Threshold and Rescue methods. Many schools use more than one method, at different stages in their selection process. Schools have used the scores in ways that have sought to improve the fairness of selection and support widening participation. Initially great care was taken not to exclude any applicant on the basis of low UKCAT scores alone but it has been used more as confidence has grown.
Conclusions
There is considerable variation in how medical schools use UKCAT, so it is important that they clearly inform applicants how the test will be used so they can make best use of their limited number of applications.
doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-98
PMCID: PMC3248371  PMID: 22114935
3.  Sickness certification system in the United Kingdom: qualitative study of views of general practitioners in Scotland 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2004;328(7431):88.
Objectives To explore how general practitioners operate the sickness certification system, their views on the system, and suggestions for change.
Design Qualitative focus group study consisting of 11 focus groups with 67 participants.
Setting General practitioners in practices in Glasgow, Tayside, and Highland regions, Scotland.
Sample Purposive sample of general practitioners, with further theoretical sampling of key informant general practitioners to examine emerging themes.
Results General practitioners believed that the sickness certification system failed to address complex, chronic, or doubtful cases. They seemed to develop various operational strategies for its implementation. There appeared to be important deliberate misuse of the system by general practitioners, possibly related to conflicts about roles and incongruities in the system. The doctor-patient relationship was perceived to conflict with the current role of general practitioners in sickness certification. When making decisions about certification, the general practitioners considered a wide variety of factors. They experienced contradictory demands from other system stakeholders and felt blamed for failing to make impossible reconciliations. They clearly identified the difficulties of operating the system when there was no continuity of patient care. Many wished either to relinquish their gatekeeper role or to continue only with major changes.
Conclusions Policy makers need to recognise and accommodate the range and complexity of factors that influence the behaviour of general practitioners operating as gatekeepers to the sickness certification system, before making changes. Such changes are otherwise unlikely to result in improvement. Models other than the primary care gatekeeper model should be considered.
doi:10.1136/bmj.37949.656389.EE
PMCID: PMC314050  PMID: 14691065
4.  A qualitative study of why general practitioners admit to community hospitals. 
BACKGROUND: Intermediate care, which is provided by community hospitals, is increasingly seen as one way of reducing pressure on secondary care. However, despite evidence of wide variation, there is little literature describing how general practitioners (GPs) use these hospitals. Because of the control they have over decisions to admit, development of these units depends on the cooperation of GPs. AIM: To identify and understand the factors influencing the decision to admit to a community hospital. DESIGN OF STUDY: A qualitative interview study. SETTING: Twenty-seven practitioners from ten practices supporting five community hospitals in one region of Tayside, Scotland Secondary support was identical for all sites. METHOD: In-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of GPs representing those who had the most and the least use of the five community hospitals. A qualitative anaysis was performed to determine thefactors that practitioners considered important when making decisions about admission. Results were presented to the study group for validation. RESULTS: All admissions required adequate capacity in the community hospital system. Primarily social admissions were straight forward requiring only adequate hospital nursing, and GP capacity. More typical admissions involving social and medical needs required consideration of the professional concerns and the personal influences on the doctor as well as the potential benefits to the patient. As medical complexity increased the doctor's comfort/discomfort became the deciding factor. CONCLUSION: Provided there was adequate capacity, the GPs perceived the level of comfort to be the prime determinant of which patients are admitted to community hospitals and which are referred to secondary care.
PMCID: PMC1314380  PMID: 12171220
6.  Exploring medication use to seek concordance with 'non-adherent' patients: a qualitative study. 
BACKGROUND: 'Concordance' has been proposed as a new approach towards sub-optimal medication use; however, it is not clear how this may be achieved in practice. AIM: To develop a strategy for understanding sub-optimal medication use and seek concordance during primary care consultations. DESIGN: A developmental qualitative study using a modified action research design. SETTING: Three Scottish general practices. METHOD: Patients using treatment sub-optimally and having poor clinical control were offered extended consultations to explore their situation. Their authority to make treatment decisions was made explicit throughout. Clinicians refined a consultation model during ten 'Balint-style' meetings that ran in parallel with the analysis. The analysis included all material from the consultations, meetings, and discussion with patients after the intervention. RESULTS: Three practitioners recorded 59 consultations with 24 adult patients. A six-stage process was developed, first to understand and then to discuss existing medication use. Understanding of medication use was best established using a structured exploration of patients' beliefs about their illness and medication. Four problematic issues were identified: understanding, acceptance, level of personal control, and motivation. Pragmatic interventions were developed that were tailored to the issues identified. Of the 22 subjects usefully engaged in the process, 14 had improved clinical control or medication use three months after intervention ceased. CONCLUSIONS: A sensitive, structured exploration of patients' beliefs can elucidate useful insights that explain medication use and expose barriers to change. Identifying and discussing these barriers improved management for some. A model to assist such concordant prescribing is presented.
PMCID: PMC1314197  PMID: 11791812
7.  Fundholding and prescribing 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  1995;311(6997):128-129.
PMCID: PMC2550198

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