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A quarter of patients did not disclose symptoms to their GP, finds study

Nearly a quarter of patients did not disclose symptoms to their GP that they had planned on discussing, according to a new study.

The research, published in Oxford Family Practice, found that while nearly all patients discussed their main issue, 23% did not tell their GP about symptoms they expressed an intention to discuss.

Joint pain, headache, tiredness and sleeping difficulty were among the symptoms most likely to remain undisclosed.

The analysis included 15 GPs across seven practices in the Midlands, and involved pre-consultation questionnaires and video-recorded consultations.

The team then compared the actual topics discussed with the symptoms that patients said they were intending to discuss.

All patients who consented to take part were informed that the study was investigating patient–doctor communication.

When comparing the results, researchers found that in 23% of consultations symptoms remained undisclosed, with all GPs except one having consultations with non-disclosure.

Researchers said their findings could suggest the need for GPs to 'probe' patients regarding symptoms related to sleeping difficulty and tiredness.

However they added that the prominence of musculoskeletal symptoms in the sample, 'adds weight' to arguments that other health care professionals such as physiotherapists 'could be utilized to support frontline primary care, particularly with the given shortage of GPs'.

The paper also called for further research to explore the outcome of unvoiced agendas, practitioner behaviours which may 'block or facilitate patients to disclose their full agenda' and the impact of 'one problem per consultation' policies.

A pilot scheme, which started in 2016, found that placing physiotherapists in GP practices to deal with musculoskeletal appointments cut GP appointments and reduced secondary care referrals.

The programme was implemented across 65 practices in North Wales and resulted in 15,000 patients being seen, only 38 of which were referred back to the GP.

Around 3,000 referrals were also cut, with an estimated saving of £380,000.

Readers' comments (5)

  • I must be doing something right then, as everyone I see tells how tired they are and about all their aches and pains

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  • Meh, if they don’t disclose they don’t get treated . What is this BS that we are expected to read minds? Flipping RCGP cardies.

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  • David Banner

    Yep, we need far more patients to tell us they have insomnia, are TATT and have back pain. It will fill all that dead time in their 10 min consultation, is easy to diagnose, and there is effective treatment readily available. Thank you for doing this vital research, it will dramatically improve patient care.

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  • I suspect many of mine offering several nonspecific symptoms would have me reaching for the phlebotomy forms before they got as far as mentioning those other sx, none of which tend to narrow down any differential diagnoses much anyway

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  • I wish my patients did not tell my their vague symptoms aching here and there TATT, feeling unwell but cannot point out where or how.

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