There is unequal access to health care in Australia, particularly for the one-third of the population living in remote and rural areas. Video consultations delivered via the Internet present an opportunity to provide medical services to those who are underserviced, but this is not currently routine practice in Australia. There are advantages and shortcomings to using video consultations for diagnosis, and general practitioners (GPs) have varying opinions regarding their efficacy.
The aim of this Internet-based study was to explore the attitudes of Australian GPs toward video consultation by using a range of patient scenarios presenting different clinical problems.
Overall, 102 GPs were invited to view 6 video vignettes featuring patients presenting with acute and chronic illnesses. For each vignette, they were asked to offer a differential diagnosis and to complete a survey based on the theory of planned behavior documenting their views on the value of a video consultation.
A total of 47 GPs participated in the study. The participants were younger than Australian GPs based on national data, and more likely to be working in a larger practice. Most participants (72%-100%) agreed on the differential diagnosis in all video scenarios. Approximately one-third of the study participants were positive about video consultations, one-third were ambivalent, and one-third were against them. In all, 91% opposed conducting a video consultation for the patient with symptoms of an acute myocardial infarction. Inability to examine the patient was most frequently cited as the reason for not conducting a video consultation. Australian GPs who were favorably inclined toward video consultations were more likely to work in larger practices, and were more established GPs, especially in rural areas. The survey results also suggest that the deployment of video technology will need to focus on follow-up consultations.
Patients with minor self-limiting illnesses and those with medical emergencies are unlikely to be offered access to a GP by video. The process of establishing video consultations as routine practice will need to be endorsed by senior members of the profession and funding organizations. Video consultation techniques will also need to be taught in medical schools.
videoconferencing; general practice; patient appointments; health care
The number of medical practitioners in the developed world has increased but in relative terms their incomes have decreased. Published comments suggest that some doctors are dissatisfied with what they earn. However doctors are still perceived as having a high status in society. Publicly available data suggests that doctors chose to live and work in affluent suburbs where arguably the need for their skills is less than that in neighbouring deprived areas. The gender balance in medicine is also changing with more women entering the workforce and a greater acceptance of parttime working arrangements. In some countries doctors have relinquished the responsibility for emergency out of hours care in general practice and personal continuity of care is no longer on offer. The profession is also challenged by policy makers’ enthusiasm for guidelines while the focus on multidisciplinary teamwork makes it more likely that patients will routinely be able to consult professionals other than medical practitioners. At the same time the internet has changed patient expectations so that health care providers will be expected to deploy information technology to satisfy patients. Medicine still has a great deal to offer. Information may be readily available on the internet, but it is not an independently sufficient, prerequisite for people to contend with the physical and psychological distress associated with disease and disability. We need to understand and promote the crucial role doctors play in society at a time of tremendous change in the attitudes to, and within, the profession.
Doctors; profession; income; working hours
This editorial will consider the challenge of innovation for healthcare from three perspectives: the general practitioner (GP), the patient and the policy maker. The knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of each, respectively, are likely to affect the type of innovation adopted in practice. Each stakeholder has priorities and needs that must be reflected in the design and implementation of innovations.
The development of innovations for clinical practice warrants active engagement of clinicians in the research process. This requires attention to factors that serve as incentive to participate. The explanation for the success of factors that encourage practitioners to participate in research can be found in sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with clinical practice. It is also important to consider intrinsic incentives such as common and troublesome clinical presentations that are related to workload or unsatisfactory clinical encounters. This review will consider each of these factors and suggest ways in which clinicians, especially general practitioners, may be invited to assist on research projects.
Research; general practice; innovation; workload
There is concern across a range of healthcare settings worldwide that trust in physicians is declining. Decreased trust may lead to lesser tolerance of prognosis uncertainty and an increased demand for tests, referrals and second opinions. Literature suggests that there has been a recent cultural shift towards decreased trust in, and increased questioning of, medical advice. We investigated the impact of varying prognosis and socioeconomic status (SES) on trust in physicians, and patient questioning of medical advice.
Semistructured, audio-recorded transcribed interviews were conducted. The interview schedule was developed with reference to the Health Belief Model. Interviews were conducted between October 2008 and September 2009.
Participants were recruited via general practitioner clinics and hospital cardiac rehabilitation programmes.
Participants consisted of patients either receiving preventive treatment or active treatment for established cardiovascular disease.
A coding structure was developed based on the aim of the research, to investigate the impact of varying prognosis and SES on trust in physicians.
Older participants are more likely than their younger counterparts to be unquestioning of medical advice. Higher SES participants are more likely to question medical advice than lower SES participants. Also, unlike primary prevention participants, established pathology increased participants’ trust, or decreased questioning behaviour. Participants who perceived themselves at risk of a poor or uncertain outcome were unlikely to doubt medical advice.
Blind trust in physicians remains strong in older participants, participants who perceive their prognosis to be uncertain and a proportion of lower SES participants. This is important for practitioners in terms of patient agency and points to the importance of moral and ethical practice. However, physicians also need to be aware that there are a growing proportion of patients for whom trust needs to be developed, and cannot be assumed.
Preventive Medicine; Medical Education & Training
Generalist; Doctor; impersonator; skills; innovation
It is now common practice for doctors to consult patients by means other than face-to-face, often appearing before the patient on a computer screen. Also, many websites are using depictions of health professionals to increase the credibility of their services. Being trustworthy is an essential attribute for successful ehealth services. Little is known about which depicted accessories make a health professional appear more trustworthy.
To estimate the odds of an individual on-screen being rated trustworthy when viewed in a static image holding or wearing specific items of medical equipment.
We surveyed consecutive people attending community pharmacies to collect prescriptions in Western Australia. Respondents were presented with a series of 10 photographs, generated at random, of a man with varying numbers and combinations of medical equipment: stethoscope, reflex hammer, surgical scrubs, otoscope, and pen. They were then invited to rate the man as honest, trustworthy, honorable, moral, ethical, or genuine, or a combination of these, on the Source Credibility Scale.
A total of 168 of 250 people gave informed consent, for a participation rate of 67.2%. There were 102 female and 66 male respondents. Of the 168 respondents, 96 (57%) were born in Australia and 102 (60.7%) were attending medical practices with more than one general practitioner. The mean age of respondents was 47 (SD 16) years (range 26–92 years). When only 1 item was present in an image, the stethoscope was associated with the highest odds for the person being considered honest (odds ratio [OR] 2.6, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.6–4.3), trustworthy (OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.4–3.8), honorable (OR 2.7, 95% CI 1.6–4.5), moral (OR 2.4 95% CI 1.4–4.1), ethical (OR 2.6, 95% CI 1.5–4.6), and genuine (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.0–3.1). The presence of a stethoscope increased the odds of the person being rated in a positive light in all photographs in which it was included.
When an individual is portrayed in a static image, concurrent presentation of 3 or more items of medical equipment, and especially a stethoscope, is likely to exert a positive influence on the viewers’ perceptions of the qualities of the person depicted.
Icons; semiotics; stethoscope; doctors; trustworthiness
At least one in a hundred consultations in general practice in Australia involves women being treated for breast cancer. The challenges presented during these consultations test the quality of primary care. Firstly, women are reported to prefer to discuss their breast cancer-related problems with a specialist even though research suggests that patients generally prefer to consult with a general practitioner (GP). The extent to which these patients will have maintained or return to their previous level of functioning will be a reflection on the quality of primary care, as some breast cancer-related health issues may persist beyond the time period when they are undergoing specialist review. Further, psychosocial matters, sexuality and relationships may require repeated review and perhaps consultations involving family members and would therefore be better addressed by a GP. An increasingly urgent need exists to review how best to support people who are successfully treated for life limiting illnesses, such as breast cancer.
Breast cancer; primary care; cancer morbidity
Generalist; Doctor; Consultation; Interruption
Medicine; Doctor; Roles; Society
Typically, dementia involves progressive cognitive and functional deterioration, leading to death. A palliative approach recognizes the inevitable health decline, focusing on quality of life. The approach is holistic, proactive, supports the client and the family, and can be provided by the client's usual care team.
In the last months of life, distressing symptoms, support needs, and care transitions may escalate. This project trialed a strategy intended to support a consistent, high quality, palliative approach for people with dementia drawing close to death. The strategy was to implement two communities of practice, drawn primarily from service provider organizations across care sectors, supporting them to address practice change. Communities comprised practitioners and other health professionals with a passionate commitment to dementia palliative care and the capacity to drive practice enhancement within partnering organizations.
Project aims were to document: (i) changes driven by the communities of practice; (ii) changes in staff/practitioner characteristics during the study (knowledge of a palliative approach and dementia; confidence delivering palliative care; views on death and dying, palliative care, and a palliative approach for dementia); (iii) outcomes from perspectives of family carers, care providers, and community of practice members; (iv) the extent to which changes enhanced practice and care continuity; and (v) barriers to and facilitators of successful community of practice implementation.
This action research project was implemented over 14 months in 2010/11 in metropolitan Perth, Western Australia and regional Launceston, Tasmania. Each state based community of practice worked with the researchers to scope existing practice and its outcomes. The research team compiled a report of existing practice recommendations and resources. Findings of these two steps informed community of practice action plans and development of additional resources. Change implementation was recorded and explored in interviews, comparisons being made with practice recommendations. Changes in staff/practitioner characteristics were evaluated using survey data. Findings from semi structured interviews and survey administration established outcomes from perspectives of family carers, care providers, and community of practice members. Consideration of processes and outcomes, across the two state based settings, informed identification of barriers and facilitators. Community of practice reflections also informed study recommendations.
Dementia; Palliative care; Evidence translation; Action research
It is commonplace for lay caregivers to overlook their own health concerns when supporting someone with advanced cancer. During this time, caregivers' needs as patients are often marginalised by health professionals, including General Practitioners (GPs), who may miss the breadth of caregivers' needs by focusing on the practicalities of caregiving. GPs traditionally rely on patients to raise their concerns, and then respond to these concerns, but caregivers as patients may be disinclined to cue their GP. The norms of engagement when caregivers consult their GP are less defined, and how they interact with their GP regarding their own health is under-explored. This sub-study investigates the norms, assumptions and subtleties which govern caregiver-GP consultations, and explores factors affecting their interaction regarding caregivers' own health concerns.
We conducted semi-structured interviews with six lay caregivers and 19 health professionals in Brisbane, Australia, and analyzed the interview transcripts thematically.
Traditional norms of engagement are subjected to assumptions and expectations which caregivers and GPs bring to the consultation. Practice pressures also influence both parties' capacity and willingness to discuss caregivers' health. Nonetheless, some GPs monitor caregivers' health opportunistically. Their interaction is enhanced by the quality of the caregiver-GP relationship and by the GP's skills.
Caregivers are caught in a paradox whereby their health needs may become subsumed by the care recipient's needs in a setting where patient needs are normally scrutinised and supported. Caregivers may not raise their health concerns with their GP, who instead may need to cue them that it is timely and safe to do so. The routine use of a prompt may help to address caregivers' needs systematically, but it needs to be complemented by GPs' desire and capacity to engage with patients in a caregiving role. The potential difference GPs can make to the health of these patients is substantial.
Background. Health professionals, including general practitioners involved in followup of breast cancer patients, need to systematically assess opportunities to offer patients support with ongoing or new problems. Methods. A self-administered needs assessment questionnaire was developed with reference to a multidisciplinary team. Short, evidence-based, readable questions were emphasized, and questions were tested for face validity. The questions flowed across three domains: physical, social, and psychological. Content validity and user friendliness were assessed. Results. A final set of 30 questions was rated as easy to read and comprehend (Flesch Reading Ease score 65.8 and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 6.9). When piloted with twenty-one patients the self-administered questionnaire detected 121 items of unmet need encompassing all three domains. Conclusions. This self-administered questionnaire has the potential to assist in the holistic assessment of breast cancer patient after treatment. The clinical value of the self-administered questionnaire will need to be further tested before it can be widely adopted.
Caring for a person with progressive cancer creates challenges for caregivers. However the needs of caregivers are often not assessed or recognised by health care providers. Research is also lacking in this area, with little knowledge relating to effective strategies to address the specific needs of caregivers. This paper outlines a study protocol aimed at developing and evaluating the effectiveness of a general practice-based intervention to better meet the needs of caregivers of patients with advanced cancer.
Two hundred and sixty caregivers will be randomised into each of two arms of the intervention (520 participants in total) through patients with advanced cancer attending medical and radiation oncology outpatient clinics at two tertiary hospital sites. Consenting caregivers will be followed up for six months, and telephone surveyed at baseline, 1, 3 and 6 months following their entry into the study or until the patient's death, whichever occurs first. Assessment and management of the unmet needs of caregivers in the intervention arm will be facilitated through a specifically developed general practice-based strategy; caregivers in the control group will receive usual care. Qualitative interviews will be conducted with a sample of up to 20 caregivers and 10 GPs at the conclusion of their participation, to explore their views regarding the usefulness of the intervention.
This study will determine whether systematic assessment of caregiver needs supported by caregiver-specific information for General Practitioners is effective in alleviating the unmet needs experienced by caregivers caring for patients with advanced cancer.
Trial registration number
Has not improved patient outcomes in the UK
Innovations to be deployed during consultations with patients may influence the clinical performance of the medical practitioner. This study examined the impact on General Practitioners' (GPs) consultation performance of novel computer software, designed for use while consulting the patient.
Six GPs were video recorded consulting six actor-patients in a simulated clinical environment. Two sessions were recorded with six consultations per GP. Five cases presented cancer symptoms which warranted a referral for specialist investigation. Practitioners were invited to use a novel software package to process referrals made during the consultations in the second session. Two assessors independently reviewed the consultation performance using the Leicester Assessment Package (LAP). Inter-rater agreement was assessed by a Bland-Altman plot of the difference in score against the average score.
Sixty of the seventy two consultations were successfully recorded. Each video consultation was scored twice by two assessors leaving 120 LAP scores available for analysis. There was no evidence of a difference in the variance with increasing score (Pitmans test p = 0.09). There was also no difference in the mean differences between assessor scores whether using the software or not (T-test, P = 0.49)
The actor-patient consultation can be used to test clinical innovations as a prelude to a formal clinical trial. However the logistics of the study may impact on the validity of the results and need careful planning. Ideally innovations should be tested within the context of a laboratory designed for the purpose, incorporating a pool of practitioners whose competencies have been established and assessors who can be blinded to the aims of the study.
In this study we explored the challenges to establishing a community of practice (CoP) to address standards in general practice. We focused on the issue of improving referral letters which are the main form of communication between general practitioners (GPs) and specialists. There is evidence to suggest that the information relayed to specialists at the time of referral could be improved.
We aimed to develop a community of practice consisting of GPs in Western Australia to improve the quality of referral letters to six specialty clinics. Three phases included: establishing the CoP, monitoring the progress of the CoP and sustaining and managing the CoP. The CoP's activity centred on referral letters to each of six selected specialties. A local measure for the quality of the referral letters was developed from a survey of participants about specific items of history and weighted for their perceived importance in the referral letter. Referral letters by participants written before and after the benchmarking exercise were scored for quality based on the standards set by the CoP. Feedback to participants regarding the 'quality' of their individual referrals was provided by a nominated member of the CoP, including a comparison of before and after scores.
15 GPs were recruited. Only five GPs submitted referral letters both before and after benchmarking. The five GPs that participated in both study phases submitted a total of 102 referral letters (53 before and 49 after). There was a 26 point (95% CI 11–41) improvement in the average scores of the second set of letters after taking clustering by speciality into account, indicating the quality of referral letters improved substantially after feedback.
There are many challenges to forming a CoP to focus on improving a specific issue in general practice. However we were able to demonstrate that those practitioners who participated in all aspects of the project substantially improved the quality of their referral letters. For recruitment it was important to work with a champion for the project from within the practice. The project took several months to complete therefore some GPs became disengaged. Some were very disappointed by their performance when compared to colleagues. This reaction may be an important motivation to change, however it needs to be sensitively handled if participants are not to become disillusioned or disheartened.
Smokers attribute respiratory symptoms, even when severe, to everyday causes and not as indicative of ill-health warranting medical attention. The aim of this pilot study was to conduct a structured vignette survey of people attending general practice to determine when they would advise a person with respiratory symptoms to consult a medical practitioner. Particular reference was made to smoking status and lung cancer.
Participants were recruited from two general practices in Western Australia. Respondents were invited to complete self-administered questionnaires containing nine vignettes chosen at random from a pool of sixty four vignettes, based on six clinical variables. Twenty eight vignettes described cases with at least 5% risk of cancer. For analysis these were dubbed 'cancer vignettes'. Respondents were asked if they would advise a significant other to consult a doctor with their respiratory symptoms. Logistic regression and non-parametric tests were used to analyse the data.
Three hundred questionnaires were distributed and one hundred and forty completed responses were collected over six weeks. The majority (70.3%) of respondents were female aged forty and older. A history of six weeks' of symptoms, weight loss, cough and breathlessness independently increased the odds of recommending a consultation with a medical practitioner by a factor of 11.8, 2.11, 1.40 and 4.77 respectively. A history of smoking independently increased the odds of the person being thought 'likely' or 'very likely' to have cancer by a factor of 2.46. However only 32% of cancer vignettes with a history of cigarette smoking were recognised as presentations of possible cancer.
Even though a history of cigarette smoking was more likely to lead to the suggestion that a symptomatic person may have cancer we did not confirm that smokers would be more likely to be advised to consult a doctor, even when presenting with common symptoms of lung cancer.
Extraneous distractions may influence the flow of general practice consultations. This study piloted a methodology to examine the impact of interrupting general practitioners (GPs) while consulting actor-patients.
Six GPs were video recorded consulting six actor-patients each presenting a different clinical scenario in a simulated surgery. Five cases presented red flag cancer symptoms. Half the consultations were interrupted. Two independent assessors, blinded to the occurrence of interruptions, assessed consultation performance using the Leicester Assessment Package (LAP) for clinical competence.
24 of 36 consultations were video recorded with sufficient audio-visual clarity to allow scoring. The association between LAP score and three variables could be studied: a variety of interruptions, different GPs and various scenarios. Agreement between assessors on GP performance was poor and showed an increased bias with increasing LAP score. Despite this, the interruption did not significantly impact on assessor LAP scores (Mean difference: 0.22, P = 0.83) even after controlling for assessor, different GPs and scenarios.
Extraneous distractions had no impact on GP performance in this underpowered pilot study, a conclusion which needs to be confirmed in a larger study. However several important lessons were learned. Recorded actor-patient clinical sessions are logistically challenging. GPs whose skills were not previously assessed were working in unfamiliar surroundings dealing with relatively straight forward diagnostic challenges and may have anticipated the interruptions. In a redesign of this experiment it may be possible to eliminate some of these limitations.
In Australia and in the United Kingdom (UK) access to specialists is sanctioned by General Practitioners (GPs). It is important to understand how practitioners determine which patients warrant referral.
A self-administered structured vignette postal survey of General Practitioners in Western Australia and the United Kingdom. Sixty-four vignettes describing patients with colorectal symptoms were constructed encompassing six clinical details. Nine vignettes, chosen at random, were presented to each individual. Respondents were asked if they would refer the patient to a specialist and how urgently. Logistic regression and parametric tests were used to analyse the data
We received 260 completed questionnaires. 58% of 'cancer vignettes' were selected for 'urgent' referral. 1632/2367 or 69% of all vignettes were selected for referral. After adjusting for clustering the model suggests that 38.4% of the variability is explained by all the clinical variables as well as the age and experience of the respondents. 1012 or 42.8 % of vignettes were referred 'urgently'. After adjusting for clustering the data suggests that 31.3 % of the variability is explained by the model. The age of the respondents, the location of the practice and all the clinical variables were significant in the decision to refer urgently.
GPs' referral decisions for patients with lower bowel symptoms are similar in the two countries. We question the wisdom of streaming referrals from primary care without a strong evidence base and an effective intervention for implementing guidelines. We conclude that implementation must take into account the profile of patients but also the characteristics of GPs and referral policies.
The speed of diagnosis impacts on prognosis and survival in all types of cancer. In most cases survival and prognosis are significantly worse in rural and remote Australian populations who have less access to diagnostic and therapeutic services than metropolitan communities in this country. Research suggests that in general delays in diagnosis were a factor of misdiagnosis, the confounding effect of existing conditions and delayed or misleading investigation of symptoms. The aim of this study is to further explore the factors that impact on the speed of diagnosis in rural Western Australia with direct reference to General Practitioners (GPs) working in this setting.
The methodology consisted of a structured discussion of specific cases. GPs based in two rural locations in Western Australia were asked to identify up to eight clinical cases for discussion. A diversity of cases was requested encompassing those with timely and delayed diagnosis of cancer. Focus groups were held with the practitioners to identify which factors under six headings delayed or facilitated the diagnosis in each case. A structured summary of the discussion was relayed to a wider group of GPs to seek additional views or comments on specific factors that impact on the speed of cancer diagnosis in rural and remote locations in Australia.
A number of factors affecting the speed of diagnosis were identified: the demographic shift towards a frailer and older population, presenting with multiple and complex diseases, increases the challenge to identify early cancer symptoms; seasonal and demanding work patterns leading to procrastination in presenting for medical care; unhelpful scheduling of specialist appointments; and the varying impact of informal networks and social relationships.
Within the limitations of this study we have generated a number of hypotheses that require formal evaluation: (1) GPs working within informal professional and social networks are better informed about their patients' health needs and have an advantage in making early diagnosis; (2) Despite the other differences in the population characteristics decentralising services would improve the prospect for timely diagnosis; and (3) Careful coordination of specialist appointments would improve the speed of diagnosis for rural patients.