Studying GP patient interactions - a new avenue of research

Good interactions during consultations with our GP are vital.  These interactions will affect the doctor’s decisions about our diagnosis, treatment and referral and our decisions about lifestyle choices and adherence to treatment.  For example the language patients use to describe symptoms may influence the diagnosis.  Conversely language the doctor uses might affect how the patient sees the consultation or their treatment.

However never before has the GP consultation been studied in a way that could associate contexts and behaviours with particular health outcomes.  Researchers at the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews, led by Dr Brian Williams, set out to prove that this is possible.

They have done a pilot study to establish the acceptability of audio recording to primary care staff and patients and whether it would work.

Over a two week period, 167 consented patients attending two general practices had their consultations recorded.  This represents 77% of patients who were asked to consent to recording.  Their experiences of participation were collected using an anonymous questionnaire.  Staff experiences were also gathered with a questionnaire, focus groups and meetings. 

The great majority of recordings were complete and they were all transcribed very accurately.  As a result enough high quality data was collected for analysis.  Very few patients thought the recording had affected what was said in the consultation or the treatment they received.  93% of recruits said they would be willing to take part in a longer term study.

Some practices didn’t take part due to worries about a culture of litigation and the extra workload.  The research team continues to address these issues.  However the study was generally acceptable to GPs and patients.

Overall, this study shows that it should be possible to collect a useful dataset of recorded consultations.  Linking this information with the health records will allow the patients’ progress to be followed over time.  This will make it possible to see if particular GP or patient behaviours result in good or bad outcomes, opening important new avenues of research that could not be investigated before.