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1.  Incongruous consultation behaviour: results from a UK-wide population survey 
BMC Family Practice  2012;13:21.
Background
Symptom characteristics are strong drivers of care seeking. Despite this, incongruous consultation behaviour occurs and has implications for both individuals and health-care services. The aim of this study was to determine how frequently incongruous consultation behaviour occurs, to examine whether it is more common for certain types of symptoms and to identify the factors associated with being an incongruous consulter.
Methods
An age and sex stratified random sample of 8,000 adults was drawn from twenty UK general practices. A postal questionnaire was used to collect detailed information on the presence and characteristics of 25 physical and psychological symptoms, actions taken to manage the symptoms, general health, attitudes to symptom management and demographic/socio-economic details. Two types of incongruous consultation behaviour were examined: i) consultation with a GP for symptoms self-rated as low impact and ii) no consultation with a GP for symptoms self-rated as high impact.
Results
A fifth of all symptoms experienced resulted in consultation behaviour which was incongruous based on respondents' own rating of the symptoms' impact. Low impact consultations were not common, although symptoms indicative of a potentially serious condition resulted in a higher proportion of low impact consultations. High impact non-consultations were more common, although there was no clear pattern in the type of associated symptoms. Just under half of those experiencing symptoms in the previous two weeks were categorised as an incongruous consulter (low impact consulter: 8.3%, high impact non-consulter: 37.1%). Employment status, having a chronic condition, poor health, and feeling that reassurance or advice from a health professional is important were associated with being a low impact consulter. Younger age, employment status, being an ex-smoker, poor health and feeling that not wasting the GPs time is important were associated with being a high impact non-consulter.
Conclusions
This is one of the first studies to examine incongruous consultation behaviour for a range of symptoms. High impact non-consultations were common and may have important health implications, particularly for symptoms indicative of serious disease. More research is now needed to examine incongruous consultation behaviour and its impact on both the public's health and health service use.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-13-21
PMCID: PMC3338366  PMID: 22433072
Signs & symptoms; Community-based; Health care services; Primary care
2.  Ascertaining the size of the symptom iceberg in a UK-wide community-based survey 
Background
The symptom iceberg describes the phenomenon that most symptoms are managed in the community without people seeking professional health care. The size of the iceberg for many symptoms is unknown, as is their association with personal characteristics, including history of a chronic disease.
Aim
To ascertain the size of the symptom iceberg in the UK.
Design of study
A UK-wide community-based postal survey.
Setting
Urban and rural communities across the UK.
Method
A postal survey was sent to an age- and sex-stratified random sample of 2474 adults, aged 18–60 years, drawn from 20 practices around the UK. Questions were aimed at investigating adults' experiences of 25 different symptoms in the previous 2 weeks.
Results
The number of symptoms experienced by one individual in the previous 2 weeks ranged from 0 to 22 (mean 3.66). Of the symptoms examined, the three most common were: feeling tired/run down; headaches; and joint pain. Univariate analysis found symptom prevalence to be significantly associated with a wide range of participant characteristics. However, after adjustment, many of these associations no longer remained significant for a number of the symptoms. Presence of a chronic condition, age, and employment status were the three factors most commonly associated with the 2-week prevalence of symptoms. Reported symptom characteristics (severity, duration, interference, and time off work) varied little by sex or age.
Conclusion
Symptoms in the UK community are common. Symptom prevalence was associated with a number of participant characteristics, although the extent of this association was less than has been reported in previous research. This study provides an important current baseline prevalence of 25 symptoms in the community for those who do, and do not, have a chronic condition.
doi:10.3399/bjgp11X548910
PMCID: PMC3020067  PMID: 21401979
community-based; epidemiology; prevalence; signs and symptoms; symptom iceberg
3.  Revisiting the symptom iceberg in today's primary care: results from a UK population survey 
BMC Family Practice  2011;12:16.
Background
Recent changes in UK primary care have increased the range of services and healthcare professionals available for advice. Furthermore, the UK government has promoted greater use of both self-care and the wider primary care team for managing symptoms indicative of self-limiting illness. We do not know how the public has been responding to these strategies. The aim of this study was to describe the current use of different management strategies in the UK for a range of symptoms and identify the demographic, socio-economic and symptom characteristics associated with these different approaches.
Methods
An age and sex stratified random sample of 8,000 adults (aged 18-60), drawn from twenty general practices across the UK, were sent a postal questionnaire. The questionnaire collected detailed information on 25 physical and psychological symptoms ranging from those usually indicative of minor illness to those which could be indicative of serious conditions. Information on symptom characteristics, actions taken to manage the symptoms and demographic/socio-economic details were also collected.
Results
Just under half of all symptoms reported resulted in respondents doing nothing at all. Lay-care was used for 35% of symptoms and primary care health professionals were consulted for 12% of symptoms. OTC medicine use was the most common lay-care strategy (used for 25% of all symptom episodes). The GP was the most common health professional consulted (consulted for 8% of all symptom episodes) while use of other primary care health professionals was very small (each consulted for less than 2% of symptom episodes). The actions taken for individual symptoms varied substantially although some broad patterns emerged. Symptom characteristics (in particular severity, duration and interference with daily life) were more commonly associated with actions taken than demographic or socio-economic characteristics.
Conclusion
While the use of lay-care was widespread, use of the primary care team other than the GP was low. Further research is needed to examine the public's knowledge and opinions of different primary care services to investigate why certain services are not being used to inform the future development of primary care services in the UK.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-12-16
PMCID: PMC3083353  PMID: 21473756
Signs and symptoms; Symptom iceberg; Community-based; Health care services; Primary care

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