Primary health care specialists have a key role in the management of obesity. Through understanding how they conceive the encounter with patients with obesity, treatment may be improved. The aim of this study was thus to explore general practitioners' and district nurses' conceptions of encountering patients with obesity in primary health care.
Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, and analysed using a phenomenographic approach. The participants were 10 general practitioners (6 women, 4 men) and 10 district nurses (7 women, 3 men) from 19 primary health care centres within a well-defined area of Sweden.
Five descriptive categories were identified: Adequate primary health care, Promoting lifestyle change, Need for competency, Adherence to new habits and Understanding patient attitudes. All participants, independent of gender and profession, were represented in the descriptive categories. Some profession and gender differences were, however, found in the underlying conceptions. The general staff view was that obesity had to be prioritised. However, there was also the contradictory view that obesity is not a disease and therefore not the responsibility of primary health care. Despite this, staff conceived it as important that patients were met with respect and that individual solutions were provided which could be adhered to step-by-step by the patient. Patient attitudes, such as motivation to change, evasive behaviour, too much trust in care and lack of self-confidence, were, however, conceived as major barriers to a fruitful encounter.
Findings from this study indicate that there is a need for development and organisation of weight management in primary health care. Raising awareness of staff's negative views of patient attitudes is important since it is likely that it affects the patient-staff relationship and staff's treatment efforts. More research is also needed on gender and profession differences in this area.