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1.  Doctor-patient communication with people with intellectual disability - a qualitative study 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:82.
Background
People with intellectual disability (ID) expressed dissatisfaction with doctor-patient communication and mentioned certain preferences for this communication (our research). Since many people with ID in the Netherlands have recently moved from residential care facilities to supported accommodations in the community, medical care for them was transferred from ID physicians (IDPs) to general practitioners (GPs) in the vicinity of the new accommodation. We addressed the following research question: 'What are the similarities and differences between the communication preferences of people with ID and the professional criteria for doctor-patient communication by GPs?'
Methods
A focus group meeting and interviews were used to identify the preferences of 12 persons with ID for good communication with their GP; these were compared with communication criteria used to assess trainee GPs, as described in the MAAS-Global manual.
Results
Eight preferences for doctor-patient communication were formulated by the people with ID. Six of them matched the criteria used for GPs. Improvements are required as regards the time available for consultation, demonstrating physical examinations before applying them and triadic communication.
Conclusions
People with ID hold strong views on communication with their doctors during consultations. GPs, people with ID and their support workers can further fine-tune their communication skills.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-82
PMCID: PMC2806856  PMID: 20017938
2.  Implementing a fax referral program for quitline smoking cessation services in urban health centers: a qualitative study 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:81.
Background
Fax referral services that connect smokers to state quitlines have been implemented in 49 U.S. states and territories and promoted as a simple solution to improving smoker assistance in medical practice. This study is an in-depth examination of the systems-level changes needed to implement and sustain a fax referral program in primary care.
Methods
The study involved implementation of a fax referral system paired with a chart stamp prompting providers to identify smoking patients, provide advice to quit and refer interested smokers to a state-based fax quitline. Three focus groups (n = 26) and eight key informant interviews were conducted with staff and physicians at two clinics after the intervention. We used the Chronic Care Model as a framework to analyze the data, examining how well the systems changes were implemented and the impact of these changes on care processes, and to develop recommendations for improvement.
Results
Physicians and staff described numerous benefits of the fax referral program for providers and patients but pointed out significant barriers to full implementation, including the time-consuming process of referring patients to the Quitline, substantial patient resistance, and limitations in information and care delivery systems for referring and tracking smokers. Respondents identified several strategies for improving integration, including simplification of the referral form, enhanced teamwork, formal assignment of responsibility for referrals, ongoing staff training and patient education. Improvements in Quitline feedback were needed to compensate for clinics' limited internal information systems for tracking smokers.
Conclusions
Establishing sustainable linkages to quitline services in clinical sites requires knowledge of existing patterns of care and tailored organizational changes to ensure new systems are prioritized, easily integrated into current office routines, formally assigned to specific staff members, and supported by internal systems that ensure adequate tracking and follow up of smokers. Ongoing staff training and patient self-management techniques are also needed to ease the introduction of new programs and increase their acceptability to smokers.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-81
PMCID: PMC2811101  PMID: 20017930
3.  Experience as a doctor in the developing world: does it benefit the clinical and organisational performance in general practice? 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:80.
Background
Many physicians have medical experience in developing countries early in their career, but its association with their medical performance later is not known. To explore possible associations we compared primary care physicians (GPs) with and without professional experience in a developing country in performance both clinical and organisational.
Methods
A retrospective survey using two databases to analyse clinical and organisational performance respectively. Analysis was done at the GP level and practice level.
517 GPs received a questionnaire regarding relevant working experience in a developing country. Indicators for clinical performance were: prescription, referral, external diagnostic procedures and minor procedures. We used the district health insurance data base covering 570.000 patients. Explorative secondary analysis of practice visits of 1004 GPs in 566 practices in the Netherlands from 1999 till 2001. We used a validated practice visit method (VIP; 385 indicators in 51 dimensions of practice management) to compare having experience in a developing country or not.
Results
Almost 8% of the GPs had experience in a developing country of at least two years.
These GPs referred 9,5% less than their colleagues and did more surgical procedures. However, in the multivariate analysis 'experience in a developing country' was not significantly associated with clinical performance or with other GP- and practice characteristics. 16% of the practices a GP or GPs with at least two years experience in a developing country. They worked more often in group and rural practices with less patients per fte GP and more often part-time. These practices are more hygienic, collaborate more with the hospital and score better on organisation of the practice. These practices score less on service and availability, spend less time on patients in the consultation and the quality of recording in the EMD is lower.
Conclusions
We found interesting differences in clinical and organisational performance between GPs with and without medical experience in developing countries and between their practices. It is not possible to attribute these differences to this experience, because the choice for medical experience in a tropical country probably reflects individual differences in professional motivation and personality. Experience in a developing country may be just as valuable for later performance in general practice as experience at home.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-80
PMCID: PMC2801666  PMID: 20003532
4.  Gender differences in presentation and diagnosis of chest pain in primary care 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:79.
Background
Chest pain is a common complaint and reason for consultation in primary care. Research related to gender differences in regard to Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) has been mainly conducted in hospital but not in primary care settings. We aimed to analyse gender differences in aetiology and clinical characteristics of chest pain and to provide gender related symptoms and signs associated with CHD.
Methods
We included 1212 consecutive patients with chest pain aged 35 years and older attending 74 general practitioners (GPs). GPs recorded symptoms and findings of each patient and provided follow up information. An independent interdisciplinary reference panel reviewed clinical data of every patient and decided about the aetiology of chest pain at the time of patient recruitment. Multivariable regression analysis was performed to identify clinical predictors that help to rule in or out CHD in women and men.
Results
Women showed more psychogenic disorders (women 11,2%, men 7.3%, p = 0.02), men suffered more from CHD (women 13.0%, men 17.2%, p = 0.04), trauma (women 1.8%, men 5.1%, p < 0.001) and pneumonia/pleurisy (women 1.3%, men 3.0%, p = 0.04) Men showed significantly more often chest pain localised on the right side of the chest (women 9.1%, men 25.0%, p = 0.01). For both genders known clinical vascular disease, pain worse with exercise and age were associated positively with CHD. In women pain duration above one hour was associated positively with CHD, while shorter pain durations showed an association with CHD in men. In women negative associations were found for stinging pain and in men for pain depending on inspiration and localised muscle tension.
Conclusions
We found gender differences in regard to aetiology, selected clinical characteristics and association of symptoms and signs with CHD in patients presenting with chest pain in a primary care setting. Further research is necessary to elucidate whether these differences would support recommendations for different diagnostic approaches for CHD according to a patient's gender.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-79
PMCID: PMC2801475  PMID: 20003406
5.  Evaluation of prescribing patterns in a German network of CAM physicians for the treatment of patients with hypertension: a prospective observational study 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:78.
Background
The management of hypertension is a key challenge in modern health systems. This study aimed to investigate hypertension treatment strategies among physicians specialized in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in Germany by analysing prescribing patterns and comparing these to the current treatment guidelines issued by the German Hypertension Society.
Methods
In this prospective, multicentre observational study, which included 25 primary care physicians specialized in CAM treatment, prescriptions and diagnoses were analysed for each consecutive hypertensive patient using routine electronic data. Data analysis was performed using univariate statistical tests (Chi square test, Cochran-Armitage trend test). Multiple logistic regression was used to determine factors associated with antihypertensive medication.
Results
In the year 2005, 1320 patients with 3278 prescriptions were included (mean age = 64.2 years (SD = 14.5), 63.5% women). Most patients were treated with conventional antihypertensive monotherapies (n = 838, 63.5%). Beta-blockers were the most commonly prescribed monotherapy (30.7%), followed by ACE inhibitors (24.0%). Combination treatment usually consisted of two antihypertensive drugs administered either as separate agents or as a coformulation. The most common combination was a diuretic plus an ACE inhibitor (31.2% of dual therapies). Patient gender, age, and comorbidities significantly influenced which treatment was prescribed. 187 patients (14.2%) received one or more CAM remedies, most of which were administered in addition to classic monotherapies (n = 104). Men (OR = 0.66; 95% CI: 0.54-0.80) and patients with diabetes (OR = 0.55; 95% CI: 0.42-0.0.73), hypercholesterolaemia (OR = 0.59; 95% CI: 0.47-0.75), obesity (OR = 0.74; 95% CI: 0.57-0.97), stroke (OR = 0.54; 95% CI: 0.40-0.74), or prior myocardial infarction (OR = 0.37; 95% CI: 0.17-0.81) were less likely to receive CAM treatment.
Conclusions
The large majority of antihypertensive treatments prescribed by CAM physicians in the present study complied with the current German Hypertension Society treatment guidelines. Deviations from the guidelines were observed in one of every seven patients receiving some form of CAM treatment.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-78
PMCID: PMC2804584  PMID: 20003298
6.  Cardiovascular risk factor assessment after pre-eclampsia in primary care 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:77.
Background
Pre-eclampsia is associated with an increased risk of development of cardiovascular disease later in life. It is not known how general practitioners in the Netherlands care for these women after delivery with respect to cardiovascular risk factor management.
Methods
Review of medical records of 1196 women in four primary health care centres, who were registered from January 2000 until July 2007 with an International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC) code indicating pregnancy. Records were searched for indicators of pre-eclampsia. Of those who experienced pre-eclampsia and of a random sample of 150 women who did not, the following information on cardiovascular risk factor management after pregnancy was extracted from the records: frequency and timing of blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose measurements - and vascular diagnoses. Additionally the sensitivity and specificity of ICPC coding for pre-eclampsia were determined.
Results
35 women experienced pre-eclampsia. Blood pressure was more often checked after pregnancy in these women than in controls (57.1% vs. 12.0%, p < 0.001). In 50% of the cases blood pressure was measured within 3 months after delivery with no further follow-up visit. A check for glucose and cholesterol levels was rare, and equally frequent in PE and control women. 20% of the previously normotensive women in the PE group had hypertension at one or more occasions after three months post partum versus none in the control group. The ICPC coding for pre-eclampsia showed a sensitivity of 51.4% and a specificity of 100.0%.
Conclusion
Despite the evidence of increased risk of future cardiovascular disease in women with a history of pre-eclampsia, follow-up of these women is insufficient and undeveloped in primary care in the Netherlands.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-77
PMCID: PMC2796641  PMID: 19995418
7.  A patient recall program to enhance decisions about prostate cancer screening: A feasibility study 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:75.
Background
Lack of time and competing demands limit the ability of patients and providers to engage in informed decision-making discussions about prostate cancer screening during primary care visits. We evaluated a patient recall invervention to mitigate these challenges.
Methods
Using mail and telephone outreach we invited men age 50-74 years without a PSA test in the prior 12 months to make appointments with their primary care providers in order to discuss the pros and cons of PSA-based prostate cancer screening. We assessed patient responsiveness to the program, provider documentation of screening discussions, orders for PSA laboratories, and provider attitudes.
Results
Out of 80 eligible patients, 37 (46%) scheduled and 28 (35%) completed a recall appointment. A large majority (91%) of patients eligible for PSA screening received an order for this test. Providers documented PSA discussions more often for these patients than for a recent sample of their other patients who received traditional care (47.8% vs. 12.5%, p = 0.009). Twelve of 14 participating providers felt the program improved their ability to impart information about the risks and benefits of screening, but were uncertain whether it influenced their patients' preexisting preferences for screening. Some expressed doubts about the advisability of PSA-specific appointments.
Conclusion
To a limited extent, this pilot recall intervention enhanced opportunities for discussions of prostate cancer screening between patients and their primary care providers. As currently configured, however, this program was not found to be feasible for this purpose. A future version should promote screening discussions in the context of a broader range of health maintenance concerns and include more detailed, low-literacy information to educate patients in advance of clinic visits.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-75
PMCID: PMC2789040  PMID: 19948028
8.  Far from easy and accurate - detection of metabolic syndrome by general practitioners 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:76.
Background
Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a major public health challenge. General practitioners (GPs) could play a key role in its recognition. However, it often remains undiagnosed in primary care. This study assesses how well GPs and patients recognise MetS among patients with coronary heart disease or at least one of its risk factors.
Methods
Twenty-six health centres around Finland were randomly selected for the purpose of identifying, over a two-week period in April 2005, patients meeting the inclusion criteria of coronary heart disease or one of its risk factors. GPs and identified patients (n = 1880) were asked to complete surveys that included a question about the patient's MetS status. A trained nurse conducted health checks (n = 1180) of the identified patients, utilising criteria of MetS modified from the National Cholesterol Program. Data from the GPs' survey were compared with those from the health check to establish the extent of congruence of identification of MetS.
Results
Almost half (49.4%) of the patients met the criteria of MetS as established by objective measures. However, in the GPs' survey responses, only 28.5% of the patients were identified as having MetS. Additionally, these groups of MetS patients were not congruent. The sensitivity of the GPs' diagnosis of MetS was 0.31 with a specificity of 0.73. Only 7.1% of the study patients stated that they were suffering from MetS.
Conclusion
Detection of MetS is inaccurate among GPs in Finland. Most patients were not aware of having MetS. The practical relevance of MetS in primary care should be reconsidered.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-76
PMCID: PMC2789713  PMID: 19948040
9.  Labour intensity of guidelines may have a greater effect on adherence than GPs' workload 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:74.
Background
Physicians' heavy workload is often thought to jeopardise the quality of care and to be a barrier to improving quality. The relationship between these has, however, rarely been investigated. In this study quality of care is defined as care 'in accordance with professional guidelines'. In this study we investigated whether GPs with a higher workload adhere less to guidelines than those with a lower workload and whether guideline recommendations that require a greater time investment are less adhered to than those that can save time.
Methods
Data were used from the Second Dutch National survey of General Practice (DNSGP-2). This nationwide study was carried out between April 2000 and January 2002.
A multilevel logistic-regression analysis was conducted of 170,677 decisions made by GPs, referring to 41 Guideline Adherence Indicators (GAIs), which were derived from 32 different guidelines. Data were used from 130 GPs, working in 83 practices with 98,577 patients. GP-characteristics as well as guideline characteristics were used as independent variables. Measures include workload (number of contacts), hours spent on continuing medical education, satisfaction with available time, practice characteristics and patient characteristics. Outcome measure is an indicator score, which is 1 when a decision is in accordance with professional guidelines or 0 when the decision deviates from guidelines.
Results
On average, 66% of the decisions GPs made were in accordance with guidelines. No relationship was found between the objective workload of GPs and their adherence to guidelines. Subjective workload (measured on a five point scale) was negatively related to guideline adherence (OR = 0.95). After controlling for all other variables, the variation between GPs in adherence to guideline recommendations showed a range of less than 10%.
84% of the variation in guideline adherence was located at the GAI-level. Which means that the differences in adherence levels between guidelines are much larger than differences between GPs. Guideline recommendations that require an extra time investment during the same consultation are significantly less adhered to: (OR = 0.46), while those that can save time have much higher adherence levels: OR = 1.55). Recommendations that reduce the likelihood of a follow-up consultation for the same problem are also more often adhered to compared to those that have no influence on this (OR = 3.13).
Conclusion
No significant relationship was found between the objective workload of GPs and adherence to guidelines. However, guideline recommendations that require an extra time investment are significantly less well adhered to while those that can save time are significantly more often adhered to.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-74
PMCID: PMC2791751  PMID: 19943953
10.  Somatisation in primary care: experiences of primary care physicians involved in a training program and in a randomised controlled trial 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:73.
Background
A new intervention aimed at managing patients with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) based on a specific set of communication techniques was developed, and tested in a cluster randomised clinical trial. Due to the modest results obtained and in order to improve our intervention we need to know the GPs' attitudes towards patients with MUS, their experience, expectations and the utility of the communication techniques we proposed and the feasibility of implementing them. Physicians who took part in 2 different training programs and in a randomised controlled trial (RCT) for patients with MUS were questioned to ascertain the reasons for the doctors' participation in the trial and the attitudes, experiences and expectations of GPs about the intervention.
Methods
A qualitative study based on four focus groups with GPs who took part in a RCT. A content analysis was carried out.
Results
Following the RCT patients are perceived as true suffering persons, and the relationship with them has improved in GPs of both groups. GPs mostly valued the fact that it is highly structured, that it made possible a more comfortable relationship and that it could be applied to a broad spectrum of patients with psychosocial problems. Nevertheless, all participants consider that change in patients is necessary; GPs in the intervention group remarked that that is extremely difficult to achieve.
Conclusion
GPs positively evaluate the communication techniques and the interventions that help in understanding patient suffering, and express the enormous difficulties in handling change in patients. These findings provide information on the direction in which efforts for improving intervention should be directed.
Trial registration
US ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00130988
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-73
PMCID: PMC2790434  PMID: 19930729
11.  Effectiveness of IT-based diabetes management interventions: a review of the literature 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:72.
Background
Information technology (IT) is increasingly being used in general practice to manage health care including type 2 diabetes. However, there is conflicting evidence about whether IT improves diabetes outcomes. This review of the literature about IT-based diabetes management interventions explores whether methodological issues such as sample characteristics, outcome measures, and mechanisms causing change in the outcome measures could explain some of the inconsistent findings evident in IT-based diabetes management studies.
Methods
Databases were searched using terms related to IT and diabetes management. Articles eligible for review evaluated an IT-based diabetes management intervention in general practice and were published between 1999 and 2009 inclusive in English. Studies that did not include outcome measures were excluded.
Results
Four hundred and twenty-five articles were identified, sixteen met the inclusion criteria: eleven GP focussed and five patient focused interventions were evaluated. Nine were RCTs, five non-randomised control trials, and two single-sample before and after designs. Important sample characteristics such as diabetes type, familiarity with IT, and baseline diabetes knowledge were not addressed in any of the studies reviewed. All studies used HbA1c as a primary outcome measure, and nine reported a significant improvement in mean HbA1c over the study period; only two studies reported the HbA1c assay method. Five studies measured diabetes medications and two measured psychological outcomes. Patient lifestyle variables were not included in any of the studies reviewed. IT was the intervention method considered to effect changes in the outcome measures. Only two studies mentioned alternative possible causal mechanisms.
Conclusion
Several limitations could affect the outcomes of IT-based diabetes management interventions to an unknown degree. These limitations make it difficult to attribute changes solely to such interventions.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-72
PMCID: PMC2783014  PMID: 19917136
12.  Evaluation of lifestyle interventions to treat elevated cardiometabolic risk in primary care (E-LITE): a randomized controlled trial 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:71.
Background
Efficacy research has shown that intensive individual lifestyle intervention lowers the risk for developing type 2 diabetes mellitus and the metabolic syndrome. Translational research is needed to test real-world models of lifestyle interventions in primary care settings.
Design
E-LITE is a three-arm randomized controlled clinical trial aimed at testing the feasibility and potential effectiveness of two lifestyle interventions: information technology-assisted self-management, either alone or in combination with care management by a dietitian and exercise counselor, in comparison to usual care. Overweight or obese adults with pre-diabetes and/or metabolic syndrome (n = 240) recruited from a community-based primary care clinic are randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions. Treatment will last 15 months and involves a three-month intensive treatment phase followed by a 12-month maintenance phase. Follow-up assessment occurs at three, six, and 15 months. The primary outcome is change in body mass index. The target sample size will provide 80% power for detecting a net difference of half a standard deviation in body mass index at 15 months between either of the self-management or care management interventions and usual care at a two-sided α level of 0.05, assuming up to a 20% rate of loss to 15-month follow-up.
Secondary outcomes include glycemic control, additional cardiovascular risk factors, and health-related quality of life. Potential mediators (e.g., treatment adherence, caloric intake, physical activity level) and moderators (e.g., age, gender, race/ethnicity, baseline mental status) of the intervention's effect on weight change also will be examined.
Discussion
This study will provide objective evidence on the extent of reductions in body mass index and related cardiometabolic risk factors from two lifestyle intervention programs of varying intensity that could be implemented as part of routine health care.
Trial registration
NCT00842426
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-71
PMCID: PMC2779786  PMID: 19909549
13.  Current European guidelines for management of arterial hypertension: Are they adequate for use in primary care? Modelling study based on the Norwegian HUNT 2 population 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:70.
Background
Previous studies indicate that clinical guidelines using combined risk evaluation for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) may overestimate risk. The aim of this study was to model and discuss implementation of the current (2007) hypertension guidelines in a general Norwegian population.
Methods
Implementation of the current European Guidelines for the Management of Arterial Hypertension was modelled on data from a cross-sectional, representative Norwegian population study (The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study 1995-97), comprising 65,028 adults, aged 20-89, of whom 51,066 (79%) were eligible for modelling.
Results
Among individuals with blood pressure ≥120/80 mmHg, 93% (74% of the total, adult population) would need regular clinical attention and/or drug treatment, based on their total CVD risk profile. This translates into 296,624 follow-up visits/100,000 adults/year. In the Norwegian healthcare environment, 99 general practitioner (GP) positions would be required in the study region for this task alone. The number of GPs currently serving the adult population in the study area is 87 per 100,000 adults.
Conclusion
The potential workload associated with the European hypertension guidelines could destabilise the healthcare system in Norway, one of the world's most long- and healthy-living nations, by international comparison. Large-scale, preventive medical enterprises can hardly be regarded as scientifically sound and ethically justifiable, unless issues of practical feasibility, sustainability and social determinants of health are considered.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-70
PMCID: PMC2774288  PMID: 19878542
14.  Family Physician attitudes about prescribing using a drug formulary 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:69.
Background
Drug formularies have been created by third party payers to control prescription drug usage and manage costs. Physicians try to provide the best care for their patients. This research examines family physicians' attitudes regarding prescription reimbursement criteria, prescribing and advocacy for patients experiencing reimbursement barriers.
Methods
Focus groups were used to collect qualitative data on family physicians' prescribing decisions related to drug reimbursement guidelines. Forty-eight family physicians from four Ontario cities participated. Ethics approval for this study was received from the Hamilton Health Sciences/Faculty of Health Sciences Research Ethics Board at McMaster University. Four clinical scenarios were used to situate and initiate focus group discussions about prescribing decisions. Open-ended questions were used to probe physicians' experiences and attitudes and responses were audio recorded. NVivo software was used to assist in data analysis.
Results
Most physicians reported that drug reimbursement guidelines complicated their prescribing process and can require lengthy interpretation and advocacy for patients who require medication that is subject to reimbursement restrictions.
Conclusion
Physicians do not generally see their role as being cost-containment monitors and observed that cumbersome reimbursement guidelines influence medication choice beyond the clinical needs of the patient, and produce unequal access to medication. They observed that frustration, discouragement, fatigue, and lack of appreciation can often contribute to family physicians' failure to advocate more for patients. Physicians argue cumbersome reimbursement regulations contribute to lower quality care and misuse of physicians' time increasing overall health care costs by adding unnecessary visits to family physicians, specialists, and emergency rooms.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-69
PMCID: PMC2770461  PMID: 19835601
15.  Explanation and relations. How do general practitioners deal with patients with persistent medically unexplained symptoms: a focus group study 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:68.
Background
Persistent presentation of medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) is troublesome for general practitioners (GPs) and causes pressure on the doctor-patient relationship. As a consequence, GPs face the problem of establishing an ongoing, preferably effective relationship with these patients. This study aims at exploring GPs' perceptions about explaining MUS to patients and about how relationships with these patients evolve over time in daily practice.
Methods
A qualitative approach, interviewing a purposive sample of twenty-two Dutch GPs within five focus groups. Data were analyzed according to the principles of constant comparative analysis.
Results
GPs recognise the importance of an adequate explanation of the diagnosis of MUS but often feel incapable of being able to explain it clearly to their patients. GPs therefore indicate that they try to reassure patients in non-specific ways, for example by telling patients that there is no disease, by using metaphors and by normalizing the symptoms. When patients keep returning with MUS, GPs report the importance of maintaining the doctor-patient relationship. GPs describe three different models to do this; mutual alliance characterized by ritual care (e.g. regular physical examination, regular doctor visits) with approval of the patient and the doctor, ambivalent alliance characterized by ritual care without approval of the doctor and non-alliance characterized by cutting off all reasons for encounter in which symptoms are not of somatic origin.
Conclusion
GPs feel difficulties in explaining the symptoms. GPs report that, when patients keep presenting with MUS, they focus on maintaining the doctor-patient relationship by using ritual care. In this care they meticulously balance between maintaining a good doctor-patient relationship and the prevention of unintended consequences of unnecessary interventions.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-68
PMCID: PMC2758831  PMID: 19775481
16.  In their own words: qualitative study of high-utilising primary care patients with medically unexplained symptoms 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:67.
Background
High utilising primary care patients with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) often frustrate their primary care providers. Studies that elucidate the attitudes of these patients may help to increase understanding and improve confidence of clinicians who care for them. The objective of this study was to describe and analyze perceptions and lived experiences of high utilising primary care patients with MUS.
Methods
A purposive sample of 19 high utilising primary care patients for whom at least 50% (69.6% in this sample) of visits for two years could not be explained medically, were encouraged to talk spontaneously about themselves and answer semi-structured questions. Verbatim transcripts of interviews were analyzed using an iterative consensus building process.
Results
Patients with MUS almost universally described current and/or past family dysfunction and were subjected to excessive testing and ineffective empirical treatments. Three distinct groups emerged from the data. 1) Some patients, who had achieved a significant degree of psychological insight and had success in life, primarily sought explanations for their symptoms. 2) Patients who had less psychological insight were more disabled by their symptoms and felt strongly entitled to be excused from normal social obligations. Typically, these patients primarily sought symptom relief, legitimization, and support. 3) Patients who expressed worry about missed diagnoses demanded excessive care and complained when their demands were resisted.
Conclusion
High utilising primary care patients are a heterogeneous group with similar experiences and different perceptions, behaviours and needs. Recognizing these differences may be critical to effective treatment and reduction in utilisation.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-67
PMCID: PMC2759903  PMID: 19772582
17.  Consensus on gut feelings in general practice 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:66.
Background
General practitioners sometimes base clinical decisions on gut feelings alone, even though there is little evidence of their diagnostic and prognostic value in daily practice. Research to validate the determinants and to assess the test properties of gut feelings requires precise and valid descriptions of gut feelings in general practice which can be used as a reliable measuring instrument. Research question: Can we obtain consensus on descriptions of two types of gut feelings: a sense of alarm and a sense of reassurance?
Methods
Qualitative research including a Delphi consensus procedure with a heterogeneous sample of 27 Dutch and Belgian GPs or ex-GPs involved in academic educational or research programmes.
Results
After four rounds, we found 70% or greater agreement on seven of the eleven proposed statements. A "sense of alarm" is defined as an uneasy feeling perceived by a GP as he/she is concerned about a possible adverse outcome, even though specific indications are lacking: There's something wrong here. This activates the diagnostic process by stimulating the GP to formulate and weigh up working hypotheses that might involve a serious outcome. A "sense of alarm" means that, if possible, the GP needs to initiate specific management to prevent serious health problems. A "sense of reassurance" is defined as a secure feeling perceived by a GP about the further management and course of a patient's problem, even though the doctor may not be certain about the diagnosis: Everything fits in.
Conclusion
The sense of alarm and the sense of reassurance are well-defined concepts. These descriptions enable us to operationalise the concept of gut feelings in further research.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-66
PMCID: PMC2754436  PMID: 19761589
18.  Patient- and system-related barriers for the earlier diagnosis of colorectal cancer 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:65.
Background
A cohort of colorectal cancer (CRC) patients represents an opportunity to study missed opportunities for earlier diagnosis. Primary objective: To study the epidemiology of diagnostic delays and failures to offer/complete CRC screening. Secondary objective: To identify system- and patient-related factors that may contribute to diagnostic delays or failures to offer/complete CRC screening.
Methods
Setting: Rural Veterans Administration (VA) Healthcare system. Participants: CRC cases diagnosed within the VA between 1/1/2000 and 3/1/2007. Data sources: progress notes, orders, and pathology, laboratory, and imaging results obtained between 1/1/1995 and 12/31/2007. Completed CRC screening was defined as a fecal occult blood test or flexible sigmoidoscopy (both within five years), or colonoscopy (within 10 years); delayed diagnosis was defined as a gap of more than six months between an abnormal test result and evidence of clinician response. A summary abstract of the antecedent clinical care for each patient was created by a certified gastroenterologist (GI), who jointly reviewed and coded the abstracts with a general internist (TW).
Results
The study population consisted of 150 CRC cases that met the inclusion criteria. The mean age was 69.04 (range 35-91); 99 (66%) were diagnosed due to symptoms; 61 cases (46%) had delays associated with system factors; of them, 57 (38% of the total) had delayed responses to abnormal findings. Fifteen of the cases (10%) had prompt symptom evaluations but received no CRC screening; no patient factors were identified as potentially contributing to the failure to screen/offer to screen. In total, 97 (65%) of the cases had missed opportunities for early diagnosis and 57 (38%) had patient factors that likely contributed to the diagnostic delay or apparent failure to screen/offer to screen.
Conclusion
Missed opportunities for earlier CRC diagnosis were frequent. Additional studies of clinical data management, focusing on following up abnormal findings, and offering/completing CRC screening, are needed.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-65
PMCID: PMC2758830  PMID: 19754964
19.  The attitude of Belgian social insurance physicians towards evidence-based practice and clinical practice guidelines 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:64.
Background
Evidence-based medicine has broadened its scope and is starting to reach insurance medicine. Although still in its initial stages, physicians in the area of insurance medicine should keep up-to-date with the evidence on various diseases in order to correctly assess disability and to give appropriate advice about health care reimbursement. In order to explore future opportunities of evidence-based medicine to improve daily insurance medicine, there is a need for qualitative studies to better understand insurance physicians' perceptions of EBM. The present study was designed to identify the attitude of insurance physicians towards evidence-based medicine and clinical practice guidelines, and to determine their ability to access, retrieve and appraise the health evidence and the barriers for applying evidence to practice.
Methods
A cross-sectional survey study was carried out among all Dutch-speaking insurance physicians employed at one of the six Belgian social insurance sickness funds and at the National Institute of Disability and Health care Insurance (n = 224). Chi-square tests were used to compare nominal and ordinal variables. Student's t-tests, ANOVA, Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis were used to compare means of continuous variables for different groups.
Results
The response rate was 48.7%. The majority of respondents were positive towards evidence-based medicine and clinical practice guidelines. Their knowledge of EBM was rather poor. Perceived barriers for applying evidence to practice were mainly time and lack of EBM skills.
Conclusion
Although the majority of physicians were positive towards EBM and welcomed more guidelines, the use of evidence and clinical practice guidelines in insurance medicine is low at present. It is in the first place important to eradicate the perceived inertia which limits the use of EBM and to further investigate the EBM principles in the context of insurance medicine. Available high-quality evidence-based resources (at the moment mainly originating from other medical fields) need to be structured in a way that is useful for insurance physicians and global access to this information needs to be ensured.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-64
PMCID: PMC2745368  PMID: 19740436
20.  Upper gastrointestinal symptoms, psychosocial co-morbidity and health care seeking in general practice: population based case control study 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:63.
Background
The pathophysiology of upper gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms is still poorly understood. Psychological symptoms were found to be more common in patients with functional gastrointestinal complaints, but it is debated whether they are primarily linked to GI symptoms or rather represent motivations for health-care seeking. Purpose of our study was to compare co-morbidity, in particular psychological and social problems, between patients with and without upper GI symptoms. In addition, we investigated whether the prevalence of psychological and social problems is part of a broader pattern of illness related health care use.
Methods
Population based case control study based on the second Dutch National Survey of general practice (conducted in 2001). Cases (adults visiting their primary care physician (PCP) with upper GI symptoms) and controls (individuals not having any of these complaints), matched for gender, age, PCP-practice and ethnicity were compared. Main outcome measures were contact frequency, prevalence of somatic as well as psychosocial diagnoses, prescription rate of (psycho)pharmacological agents, and referral rates. Data were analyzed using odds ratios, the Chi square test as well as multivariable logistic regression analysis.
Results
Data from 13,389 patients with upper GI symptoms and 13,389 control patients were analyzed. Patients with upper GI symptoms visited their PCP twice as frequently as controls (8.6 vs 4.4 times/year). Patients with upper GI symptoms presented not only more psychological and social problems, but also more other health problems to their PCP (odds ratios (ORs) ranging from 1.37 to 3.45). Patients with upper GI symptoms more frequently used drugs of any ATC-class (ORs ranging from 1.39 to 2.90), including psychotropic agents. The observed differences were less pronounced when we adjusted for non-attending control patients. In multivariate regression analysis, contact frequency and not psychological or social co-morbidity was strongest associated with patients suffering from upper GI symptoms.
Conclusion
Patients with upper GI symptoms visit their PCP more frequently for problems of any organ system, including psychosocial problems. The relationship between upper GI symptoms and psychological problems is equivocal and may reflect increased health care demands in general.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-63
PMCID: PMC2749014  PMID: 19740413
21.  Activity Increase Despite Arthritis (AÏDA): design of a Phase II randomised controlled trial evaluating an active management booklet for hip and knee osteoarthritis [ISRCTN24554946] 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:62.
Background
Hip and knee osteoarthritis is a common cause of pain and disability, which can be improved by exercise interventions. However, regular exercise is uncommon in this group because the low physical activity level in the general population is probably reduced even further by pain related fear of movement. The best method of encouraging increased activity in this patient group is not known. A booklet has been developed for patients with hip or knee osteoarthritis. It focuses on changing disadvantageous beliefs and encouraging increased physical activity.
Methods/Design
This paper describes the design of a Phase II randomised controlled trial (RCT) to test the effectiveness of this new booklet for patients with hip and knee osteoarthritis in influencing illness and treatment beliefs, and to assess the feasibility of conducting a larger definitive RCT in terms of health status and exercise behaviour. A computerised search of four general medical practice patients' record databases will identify patients older than 50 years of age who have consulted with hip or knee pain in the previous twelve months. A random sample of 120 will be invited to participate in the RCT comparing the new booklet with a control booklet, and we expect 100 to return final questionnaires. This trial will assess the feasibility of recruitment and randomisation, the suitability of the control intervention and outcome measurement tools, and will provide an estimate of effect size. Outcomes will include beliefs about hip and knee pain, beliefs about exercise, fear avoidance, level of physical activity, health status and health service costs. They will be measured at baseline, one month and three months.
Discussion
We discuss the merits of testing effectiveness in a phase II trial, in terms of intermediate outcome measures, whilst testing the processes for a larger definitive trial. We also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of testing the psychometric properties of the primary outcome measures concurrently with the trial.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN24554946
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-62
PMCID: PMC2744666  PMID: 19732415
22.  A review of significant events analysed in general practice: implications for the quality and safety of patient care 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:61.
Background
Significant event analysis (SEA) is promoted as a team-based approach to enhancing patient safety through reflective learning. Evidence of SEA participation is required for appraisal and contractual purposes in UK general practice. A voluntary educational model in the west of Scotland enables general practitioners (GPs) and doctors-in-training to submit SEA reports for feedback from trained peers. We reviewed reports to identify the range of safety issues analysed, learning needs raised and actions taken by GP teams.
Method
Content analysis of SEA reports submitted in an 18 month period between 2005 and 2007.
Results
191 SEA reports were reviewed. 48 described patient harm (25.1%). A further 109 reports (57.1%) outlined circumstances that had the potential to cause patient harm. Individual 'error' was cited as the most common reason for event occurrence (32.5%). Learning opportunities were identified in 182 reports (95.3%) but were often non-specific professional issues not shared with the wider practice team. 154 SEA reports (80.1%) described actions taken to improve practice systems or professional behaviour. However, non-medical staff were less likely to be involved in the changes resulting from event analyses describing patient harm (p < 0.05)
Conclusion
The study provides some evidence of the potential of SEA to improve healthcare quality and safety. If applied rigorously, GP teams and doctors in training can use the technique to investigate and learn from a wide variety of quality issues including those resulting in patient harm. This leads to reported change but it is unclear if such improvement is sustained.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-61
PMCID: PMC2744665  PMID: 19723325
23.  Attitudes, norms and controls influencing lifestyle risk factor management in general practice 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:59.
Background
With increasing rates of chronic disease associated with lifestyle behavioural risk factors, there is urgent need for intervention strategies in primary health care. Currently there is a gap in the knowledge of factors that influence the delivery of preventive strategies by General Practitioners (GPs) around interventions for smoking, nutrition, alcohol consumption and physical activity (SNAP). This qualitative study explores the delivery of lifestyle behavioural risk factor screening and management by GPs within a 45–49 year old health check consultation. The aims of this research are to identify the influences affecting GPs' choosing to screen and choosing to manage SNAP lifestyle risk factors, as well as identify influences on screening and management when multiple SNAP factors exist.
Methods
A total of 29 audio-taped interviews were conducted with 15 GPs and one practice nurse over two stages. Transcripts from the interviews were thematically analysed, and a model of influencing factors on preventive care behaviour was developed using the Theory of Planned Behaviour as a structural framework.
Results
GPs felt that assessing smoking status was straightforward, however some found assessing alcohol intake only possible during a formal health check. Diet and physical activity were often inferred from appearance, only being assessed if the patient was overweight. The frequency and thoroughness of assessment were influenced by the GPs' personal interests and perceived congruence with their role, the level of risk to the patient, the capacity of the practice and availability of time. All GPs considered advising and educating patients part of their professional responsibility. However their attempts to motivate patients were influenced by perceptions of their own effectiveness, with smoking causing the most frustration. Active follow-up and referral of patients appeared to depend on the GPs' orientation to preventive care, the patient's motivation, and cost and accessibility of services to patients.
Conclusion
General practitioner attitudes, normative influences from both patients and the profession, and perceived external control factors (time, cost, availability and practice capacity) all influence management of behavioural risk factors. Provider education, community awareness raising, support and capacity building may improve the uptake of lifestyle modification interventions.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-59
PMCID: PMC2746183  PMID: 19706198
24.  Does burnout among doctors affect their involvement in patients' mental health problems? A study of videotaped consultations 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:60.
Background
General practitioners' (GPs') feelings of burnout or dissatisfaction may affect their patient care negatively, but it is unknown if these negative feelings also affect their mental health care. GPs' available time, together with specific communication tools, are important conditions for providing mental health care. We investigated if GPs who feel burnt out or dissatisfied with the time available for their patients, are less inclined to encourage their patients to disclose their distress, and have shorter consultations, in order to gain time and energy. This may result in less psychological evaluations of patients' complaints.
Methods
We used 1890 videotaped consultations from a nationally representative sample of 126 Dutch GPs to analyse GPs' communication and the duration of their consultations. Burnout was subdivided into emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced accomplishment. Multilevel regression analyses were used to investigate which subgroups of GPs differed significantly.
Results
GPs with feelings of exhaustion or dissatisfaction with the available time have longer consultations compared to GPs without these feelings. Exhausted GPs, and GPs with feelings of depersonalisation, talk more about psychological or social topics in their consultations. GPs with feelings of reduced accomplishment are an exception: they communicate less affectively, are less patient-centred and have less eye contact with their patients compared to GPs without reduced accomplishment.
We found no relationship between GPs' feelings of burnout or dissatisfaction with the available time and their psychological evaluations of patients' problems.
Conclusion
GPs' feelings of burnout or dissatisfaction with the time available for their patients do not obstruct their diagnosis and awareness of patients' psychological problems. On the contrary, GPs with high levels of exhaustion or depersonalisation, and GPs who are dissatisfied with the available time, sometimes provide more opportunities to discuss mental health problems. This increases the chance that appropriate care will be found for patients with mental health problems. On the other hand, these GPs are themselves more likely to retire, or risk burnout, because of their dissatisfaction. Therefore these GPs may benefit from training or personal coaching to decrease the chance that the process of burnout will get out of hand.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-60
PMCID: PMC2754435  PMID: 19706200
25.  Detecting depressive and anxiety disorders in distressed patients in primary care; comparative diagnostic accuracy of the Four-Dimensional Symptom Questionnaire (4DSQ) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) 
BMC Family Practice  2009;10:58.
Background
Depressive and anxiety disorders often go unrecognized in distressed primary care patients, despite the overtly psychosocial nature of their demand for help. This is especially problematic in more severe disorders needing specific treatment (e.g. antidepressant pharmacotherapy or specialized cognitive behavioural therapy). The use of a screening tool to detect (more severe) depressive and anxiety disorders may be useful not to overlook such disorders. We examined the accuracy with which the Four-Dimensional Symptom Questionnaire (4DSQ) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) are able to detect (more severe) depressive and anxiety disorders in distressed patients, and which cut-off points should be used.
Methods
Seventy general practitioners (GPs) included 295 patients on sick leave due to psychological problems. They excluded patients with recognized depressive or anxiety disorders. Patients completed the 4DSQ and HADS. Standardized diagnoses of DSM-IV defined depressive and anxiety disorders were established with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) analyses were performed to obtain sensitivity and specificity values for a range of scores, and area under the curve (AUC) values as a measure of diagnostic accuracy.
Results
With respect to the detection of any depressive or anxiety disorder (180 patients, 61%), the 4DSQ and HADS scales yielded comparable results with AUC values between 0.745 and 0.815. Also with respect to the detection of moderate or severe depressive disorder, the 4DSQ and HADS depression scales performed comparably (AUC 0.780 and 0.739, p 0.165). With respect to the detection of panic disorder, agoraphobia and social phobia, the 4DSQ anxiety scale performed significantly better than the HADS anxiety scale (AUC 0.852 versus 0.757, p 0.001). The recommended cut-off points of both HADS scales appeared to be too low while those of the 4DSQ anxiety scale appeared to be too high.
Conclusion
In general practice patients on sick leave because of psychological problems, the 4DSQ and the HADS are equally able to detect depressive and anxiety disorders. However, for the detection of cases severe enough to warrant specific treatment, the 4DSQ may have some advantages over the HADS, specifically for the detection of panic disorder, agoraphobia and social phobia.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-58
PMCID: PMC2753335  PMID: 19698153

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