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1.  Primary care at Swiss universities - current state and perspective 
BMC Research Notes  2014;7:308.
Background
There is increasing evidence that a strong primary care is a cornerstone of an efficient health care system. But Switzerland is facing a shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs). This pushed the Federal Council of Switzerland to introduce a multifaceted political programme to strengthen the position of primary care, including its academic role. The aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive overview of the situation of academic primary care at the five Swiss universities by the end of year 2012.
Results
Although primary care teaching activities have a long tradition at the five Swiss universities with activities starting in the beginning of the 1980ies; the academic institutes of primary care were only established in recent years (2005 – 2009). Only one of them has an established chair. Human and financial resources vary substantially. At all universities a broad variety of courses and lectures are offered, including teaching in private primary care practices with 1331 PCPs involved. Regarding research, differences among the institutes are tremendous, mainly caused by entirely different human resources and skills.
Conclusion
So far, the activities of the existing institutes at the Swiss Universities are mainly focused on teaching. However, for a complete academic institutionalization as well as an increased acceptance and attractiveness, more research activities are needed. In addition to an adequate basic funding of research positions, competitive research grants have to be created to establish a specialty-specific research culture.
doi:10.1186/1756-0500-7-308
PMCID: PMC4037554  PMID: 24885148
Primary care; Swiss universities; Research output; Teaching; Academic career; Medical education
2.  Screening Primary-Care Patients Forgoing Health Care for Economic Reasons 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94006.
Background
Growing social inequities have made it important for general practitioners to verify if patients can afford treatment and procedures. Incorporating social conditions into clinical decision-making allows general practitioners to address mismatches between patients' health-care needs and financial resources.
Objectives
Identify a screening question to, indirectly, rule out patients' social risk of forgoing health care for economic reasons, and estimate prevalence of forgoing health care and the influence of physicians' attitudes toward deprivation.
Design
Multicenter cross-sectional survey.
Participants
Forty-seven general practitioners working in the French–speaking part of Switzerland enrolled a random sample of patients attending their private practices.
Main Measures
Patients who had forgone health care were defined as those reporting a household member (including themselves) having forgone treatment for economic reasons during the previous 12 months, through a self-administered questionnaire. Patients were also asked about education and income levels, self-perceived social position, and deprivation levels.
Key Results
Overall, 2,026 patients were included in the analysis; 10.7% (CI95% 9.4–12.1) reported a member of their household to have forgone health care during the 12 previous months. The question “Did you have difficulties paying your household bills during the last 12 months” performed better in identifying patients at risk of forgoing health care than a combination of four objective measures of socio-economic status (gender, age, education level, and income) (R2 = 0.184 vs. 0.083). This question effectively ruled out that patients had forgone health care, with a negative predictive value of 96%. Furthermore, for physicians who felt powerless in the face of deprivation, we observed an increase in the odds of patients forgoing health care of 1.5 times.
Conclusion
General practitioners should systematically evaluate the socio-economic status of their patients. Asking patients whether they experience any difficulties in paying their bills is an effective means of identifying patients who might forgo health care.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094006
PMCID: PMC3974836  PMID: 24699726
3.  General Practitioners Can Evaluate the Material, Social and Health Dimensions of Patient Social Status 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e84828.
Objective
To identify which physician and patient characteristics are associated with physicians' estimation of their patient social status.
Design
Cross-sectional multicentric survey.
Setting
Fourty-seven primary care private offices in Western Switzerland.
Participants
Random sample of 2030 patients ≥16, who encountered a general practitioner (GP) between September 2010 and February 2011.
Main measures
Primary outcome: patient social status perceived by GPs, using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status, ranging from the bottom (0) to the top (10) of the social scale.Secondary outcome: Difference between GP's evaluation and patient's own evaluation of their social status. Potential patient correlates: material and social deprivation using the DiPCare-Q, health status using the EQ-5D, sources of income, and level of education. GP characteristics: opinion regarding patients' deprivation and its influence on health and care.
Results
To evaluate patient social status, GPs considered the material, social, and health aspects of deprivation, along with education level, and amount and type of income. GPs declaring a frequent reflexive consideration of their own prejudice towards deprived patients, gave a higher estimation of patients' social status (+1.0, p = 0.002). Choosing a less costly treatment for deprived patients was associated with a lower estimation (−0.7, p = 0.002). GP's evaluation of patient social status was 0.5 point higher than the patient's own estimate (p<0.0001).
Conclusions
GPs can perceive the various dimensions of patient social status, although heterogeneously, according partly to their own characteristics. Compared to patients' own evaluation, GPs overestimate patient social status.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084828
PMCID: PMC3893170  PMID: 24454752
4.  Development of mental disorders one year after exposure to psychosocial stressors; a cohort study in primary care patients with a physical complaint 
BMC Psychiatry  2012;12:120.
Background
Mental disorders, common in primary care, are often associated with physical complaints. While exposure to psychosocial stressors and development or presence of principal mental disorders (i.e. depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders defined as multisomatoforme disorders) is commonly correlated, temporal association remains unproven. The study explores the onset of such disorders after exposure to psychosocial stressors in a cohort of primary care patients with at least one physical symptom.
Method
The cohort study SODA (SOmatization, Depression and Anxiety) was conducted by 21 private-practice GPs and three fellow physicians in a Swiss academic primary care centre. GPs included patients via randomized daily identifiers. Depression, anxiety or somatoform disorders were identified by the full Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ), a validated procedure to identify mental disorders based on DSM-IV criteria. The PHQ was also used to investigate exposure to psychosocial stressors (before the index consultation and during follow up) and the onset of principal mental disorders after one year of follow up.
Results
From November 2004 to July 2005, 1020 patients were screened for inclusion. 627 were eligible and 482 completed the PHQ one year later and were included in the analysis (77%). At one year, prevalence of principal mental disorders was 30/153 (19.6% CI95% 13.6; 26.8) for those initially exposed to a major psychosocial stressor and 26/329 (7.9% CI95% 5.2; 11.4) for those not. Stronger association exists between psychosocial stressors and depression (RR = 2.4) or anxiety (RR = 3.5) than multisomatoforme disorders (RR = 1.8). Patients who are “bothered a lot” (subjective distress) by a stressor are therefore 2.5 times (CI95% 1.5; 4.0) more likely to experience a mental disorder at one year. A history of psychiatric comorbidities or psychological treatment was not a confounding factor for developing a principal mental disorder after exposure to psychosocial stressors.
Conclusion
This primary care study shows that patients with physical complaints exposed to psychosocial stressors had a higher risk for developing mental disorders one year later. This temporal association opens the field for further research in preventive care for mental diseases in primary care patients.
doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-120
PMCID: PMC3549739  PMID: 22906197
Primary health care; Longitudinal studies; Mental disorder; Psychosocial deprivation; Stress
5.  Development and validation of a clinical prediction rule for chest wall syndrome in primary care 
BMC Family Practice  2012;13:74.
Background
Chest wall syndrome (CWS), the main cause of chest pain in primary care practice, is most often an exclusion diagnosis. We developed and evaluated a clinical prediction rule for CWS.
Methods
Data from a multicenter clinical cohort of consecutive primary care patients with chest pain were used (59 general practitioners, 672 patients). A final diagnosis was determined after 12 months of follow-up. We used the literature and bivariate analyses to identify candidate predictors, and multivariate logistic regression was used to develop a clinical prediction rule for CWS. We used data from a German cohort (n = 1212) for external validation.
Results
From bivariate analyses, we identified six variables characterizing CWS: thoracic pain (neither retrosternal nor oppressive), stabbing, well localized pain, no history of coronary heart disease, absence of general practitioner’s concern, and pain reproducible by palpation. This last variable accounted for 2 points in the clinical prediction rule, the others for 1 point each; the total score ranged from 0 to 7 points. The area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve was 0.80 (95% confidence interval 0.76-0.83) in the derivation cohort (specificity: 89%; sensitivity: 45%; cut-off set at 6 points). Among all patients presenting CWS (n = 284), 71% (n = 201) had a pain reproducible by palpation and 45% (n = 127) were correctly diagnosed. For a subset (n = 43) of these correctly classified CWS patients, 65 additional investigations (30 electrocardiograms, 16 thoracic radiographies, 10 laboratory tests, eight specialist referrals, one thoracic computed tomography) had been performed to achieve diagnosis. False positives (n = 41) included three patients with stable angina (1.8% of all positives). External validation revealed the ROC curve to be 0.76 (95% confidence interval 0.73-0.79) with a sensitivity of 22% and a specificity of 93%.
Conclusions
This CWS score offers a useful complement to the usual CWS exclusion diagnosing process. Indeed, for the 127 patients presenting CWS and correctly classified by our clinical prediction rule, 65 additional tests and exams could have been avoided. However, the reproduction of chest pain by palpation, the most important characteristic to diagnose CWS, is not pathognomonic.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-13-74
PMCID: PMC3444903  PMID: 22866824
Chest pain; Primary care; Thoracic wall; Musculoskeletal system; Decision support techniques; Diagnosis
6.  Detecting and measuring deprivation in primary care: development, reliability and validity of a self-reported questionnaire: the DiPCare-Q 
BMJ Open  2012;2(1):e000692.
Objectives
Advances in biopsychosocial science have underlined the importance of taking social history and life course perspective into consideration in primary care. For both clinical and research purposes, this study aims to develop and validate a standardised instrument measuring both material and social deprivation at an individual level.
Methods
We identified relevant potential questions regarding deprivation using a systematic review, structured interviews, focus group interviews and a think-aloud approach. Item response theory analysis was then used to reduce the length of the 38-item questionnaire and derive the deprivation in primary care questionnaire (DiPCare-Q) index using data obtained from a random sample of 200 patients during their planned visits to an ambulatory general internal medicine clinic. Patients completed the questionnaire a second time over the phone 3 days later to enable us to assess reliability. Content validity of the DiPCare-Q was then assessed by 17 general practitioners. Psychometric properties and validity of the final instrument were investigated in a second set of patients. The DiPCare-Q was administered to a random sample of 1898 patients attending one of 47 different private primary care practices in western Switzerland along with questions on subjective social status, education, source of income, welfare status and subjective poverty.
Results
Deprivation was defined in three distinct dimensions: material (eight items), social (five items) and health deprivation (three items). Item consistency was high in both the derivation (Kuder-Richardson Formula 20 (KR20) =0.827) and the validation set (KR20 =0.778). The DiPCare-Q index was reliable (interclass correlation coefficients=0.847) and was correlated to subjective social status (rs=−0.539).
Conclusion
The DiPCare-Q is a rapid, reliable and validated instrument that may prove useful for measuring both material and social deprivation in primary care.
Article summary
Article focus
This study aims to identify and test the relevance of existing indicators of deprivation to help clinicians investigate social status.
We constructed and validated an individual-level measurement of deprivation for patients attending their general practitioner: the deprivation in primary care questionnaire (DiPCare-Q).
Key messages
The DiPCare-Q proposes a reliable, validated instrument for screening and measuring deprivation among patients in developed countries.
Compared with usual indicators of socioeconomical status, the DipCare-Q index gives important additional information on subjective social status and state of deprivation.
Social deprivation is an important aspect of deprivation in general and needs to be distinguished from material deprivation.
Strengths and limitations of this study
Compared with socioeconomical status, self-reported perceived signs of deprivation are more relevant in identifying potential underlying social distress. However, the DiPCare-Q only identifies signs of deprivation without highlighting their reasons.
To improve public health and limit effects of health disparities, detecting deprivation also requires physicians to know how this is to affect their relation with their patient's in a beneficial way.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000692
PMCID: PMC3274718  PMID: 22307103
7.  The 'help' question doesn't help when screening for major depression: external validation of the three-question screening test for primary care patients managed for physical complaints 
BMC Medicine  2011;9:114.
Background
Major depression, although frequent in primary care, is commonly hidden behind multiple physical complaints that are often the first and only reason for patient consultation. Major depression can be screened by two validated questions that are easier to use in primary care than the full Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) criteria. A third question, called the 'help' question, improves the specificity without apparently decreasing the sensitivity of this screening procedure. We validated the abbreviated screening procedure for major depression with and without the 'help' question in primary care patients managed for a physical complaint.
Methods
This diagnostic accuracy study used data from the SODA (for 'SOmatisation Depression Anxiety') cohort study conducted by 24 general practitioners (GPs) in western Switzerland that included patients over 18 years of age with at least a single physical complaint at index consultation. Major depression was identified with the full Patient Health Questionnaire. GPs were asked to screen patients for major depression with the three screening questions 1 year after inclusion.
Results
Of 937 patients with at least a single physical complaint, 751 were eligible 1 year after index consultation. Major depression was diagnosed in 69/724 (9.5%) patients. The sensitivity and specificity of the two-question method alone were 91.3% (95% CI 81.4 to 96.4) and 65.0% (95% CI 61.2 to 68.6), respectively. Adding the 'help' question decreased the sensitivity (59.4%; 95% CI 47.0 to 70.9) but improved the specificity (88.2%; 95% CI 85.4 to 90.5) of the three-question method.
Conclusions
The use of two screening questions for major depression was associated with high sensitivity and low specificity in primary care patients presenting a physical complaint. Adding the 'help' question improved the specificity but clearly decreased the sensitivity; when using the 'help' question, four out of ten patients with depression will be missed, compared to only one out of ten with the two-question method. Therefore, the 'help' question is not useful as a screening question, but may help discussing management strategies.
doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-114
PMCID: PMC3213092  PMID: 22005130
8.  Oral vitamin B12 for patients suspected of subtle cobalamin deficiency: a multicentre pragmatic randomised controlled trial 
BMC Family Practice  2011;12:2.
Background
Evidence regarding the effectiveness of oral vitamin B12 in patients with serum vitamin B12 levels between 125-200 pM/l is lacking. We compared the effectiveness of one-month oral vitamin B12 supplementation in patients with a subtle vitamin B12 deficiency to that of a placebo.
Methods
This multicentre (13 general practices, two nursing homes, and one primary care center in western Switzerland), parallel, randomised, controlled, closed-label, observer-blind trial included 50 patients with serum vitamin B12 levels between 125-200 pM/l who were randomized to receive either oral vitamin B12 (1000 μg daily, N = 26) or placebo (N = 24) for four weeks. The institution's pharmacist used simple randomisation to generate a table and allocate treatments. The primary outcome was the change in serum methylmalonic acid (MMA) levels after one month of treatment. Secondary outcomes were changes in total homocysteine and serum vitamin B12 levels. Blood samples were centralised for analysis and adherence to treatment was verified by an electronic device (MEMS; Aardex Europe, Switzerland). Trial registration: ISRCTN 22063938.
Results
Baseline characteristics and adherence to treatment were similar in both groups. After one month, one patient in the placebo group was lost to follow-up. Data were evaluated by intention-to-treat analysis. One month of vitamin B12 treatment (N = 26) lowered serum MMA levels by 0.13 μmol/l (95%CI 0.06-0.19) more than the change observed in the placebo group (N = 23). The number of patients needed to treat to detect a metabolic response in MMA after one month was 2.6 (95% CI 1.7-6.4). A significant change was observed for the B12 serum level, but not for the homocysteine level, hematocrit, or mean corpuscular volume. After three months without active treatment (at four months), significant differences in MMA levels were no longer detected.
Conclusions
Oral vitamin B12 treatment normalised the metabolic markers of vitamin B12 deficiency. However, a one-month daily treatment with1000 μg oral vitamin B12 was not sufficient to normalise the deficiency markers for four months, and treatment had no effect on haematological signs of B12 deficiency.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-12-2
PMCID: PMC3033340  PMID: 21232119
9.  Patients presenting with somatic complaints in general practice: depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders are frequent and associated with psychosocial stressors 
BMC Family Practice  2010;11:67.
Background
Mental disorders in primary care patients are frequently associated with physical complaints that can mask the disorder. There is insufficient knowledge concerning the role of anxiety, depression, and somatoform disorders in patients presenting with physical symptoms. Our primary objective was to determine the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders among primary care patients with a physical complaint. We also investigated the relationship between cumulated psychosocial stressors and mental disorders.
Methods
We conducted a multicentre cross-sectional study in twenty-one private practices and in one academic primary care centre in Western Switzerland. Randomly selected patients presenting with a spontaneous physical complaint were asked to complete the self-administered Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) between November 2004 and July 2005. The validated French version of the PHQ allowed the diagnosis of mental disorders (DSM-IV criteria) and the analyses of exposure to psychosocial stressors.
Results
There were 917 patients exhibiting at least one physical symptom included. The rate of depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders was 20.0% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 17.4% to 22.7%), 15.5% (95% CI = 13.2% to 18.0%), and 15.1% (95% CI = 12.8% to 17.5%), respectively. Psychosocial stressors were significantly associated with mental disorders. Patients with an accumulation of psychosocial stressors were more likely to present anxiety, depression, or somatoform disorders, with an increase of 2.2 fold (95% CI = 2.0 to 2.5) for each additional stressor.
Conclusions
The investigation of mental disorders and psychosocial stressors among patients with physical complaints is relevant in primary care. Psychosocial stressors should be explored as potential epidemiological causes of mental disorders.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-11-67
PMCID: PMC2945969  PMID: 20843358
10.  Predictive ability of an early diagnostic guess in patients presenting with chest pain; a longitudinal descriptive study 
BMC Family Practice  2010;11:14.
Background
The intuitive early diagnostic guess could play an important role in reaching a final diagnosis. However, no study to date has attempted to quantify the importance of general practitioners' (GPs) ability to correctly appraise the origin of chest pain within the first minutes of an encounter.
Methods
The validation study was nested in a multicentre cohort study with a one year follow-up and included 626 successive patients who presented with chest pain and were attended by 58 GPs in Western Switzerland. The early diagnostic guess was assessed prior to a patient's history being taken by a GP and was then compared to a diagnosis of chest pain observed over the next year.
Results
Using summary measures clustered at the GP's level, the early diagnostic guess was confirmed by further investigation in 51.0% (CI 95%; 49.4% to 52.5%) of patients presenting with chest pain. The early diagnostic guess was more accurate in patients with a life threatening illness (65.4%; CI 95% 64.5% to 66.3%) and in patients who did not feel anxious (62.9%; CI 95% 62.5% to 63.3%). The predictive abilities of an early diagnostic guess were consistent among GPs.
Conclusions
The GPs early diagnostic guess was correct in one out of two patients presenting with chest pain. The probability of a correct guess was higher in patients with a life-threatening illness and in patients not feeling anxious about their pain.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-11-14
PMCID: PMC2836993  PMID: 20170544
11.  Ruling out coronary heart disease in primary care patients with chest pain: a clinical prediction score 
BMC Medicine  2010;8:9.
Background
Chest pain raises concern for the possibility of coronary heart disease. Scoring methods have been developed to identify coronary heart disease in emergency settings, but not in primary care.
Methods
Data were collected from a multicenter Swiss clinical cohort study including 672 consecutive patients with chest pain, who had visited one of 59 family practitioners' offices. Using delayed diagnosis we derived a prediction rule to rule out coronary heart disease by means of a logistic regression model. Known cardiovascular risk factors, pain characteristics, and physical signs associated with coronary heart disease were explored to develop a clinical score. Patients diagnosed with angina or acute myocardial infarction within the year following their initial visit comprised the coronary heart disease group.
Results
The coronary heart disease score was derived from eight variables: age, gender, duration of chest pain from 1 to 60 minutes, substernal chest pain location, pain increasing with exertion, absence of tenderness point at palpation, cardiovascular risks factors, and personal history of cardiovascular disease. Area under the receiver operating characteristics curve was of 0.95 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.92; 0.97. From this score, 413 patients were considered as low risk for values of percentile 5 of the coronary heart disease patients. Internal validity was confirmed by bootstrapping. External validation using data from a German cohort (Marburg, n = 774) revealed a receiver operating characteristics curve of 0.75 (95% confidence interval, 0.72; 0.81) with a sensitivity of 85.6% and a specificity of 47.2%.
Conclusions
This score, based only on history and physical examination, is a complementary tool for ruling out coronary heart disease in primary care patients complaining of chest pain.
doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-9
PMCID: PMC2832616  PMID: 20092615

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