Deciding whether to consult the GP or an emergency department: A qualitative study of patient reasoning in Switzerland.

9 augustus 2019

Abstract Background: Non-urgent care is an important factor responsible for rising healthcare costs and general practitioners (GPs) are known to be more cost-effective than emergency departments (EDs). Objectives: To understand the reasons why patients confronted with a medical problem perceived as urgent choose to consult either a GP or an ED.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative study in Switzerland, using data collected between 2014 and 2015 through semi-structured interviews of adults with non-vital medical problems. Half were recruited after an ambulatory consultation in an ED, and half were patients who consulted their GP. The audio-recorded interviews were transcribed, coded, and analysed according to the constant comparative method.

Results: The main reason given by patients who consulted their GP first was the quality of the relationship. The more meaningful the relationship, the more likely patients were to seek advice from their GP. One marker of a privileged relationship was GPs supplying their mobile phone number to the patient. The perceived nature of the complaint, for example, symptoms considered as life-threatening or severe pain, together with the expected waiting time in an ED were additional factors influencing the patients’ choice.

Conclusion: Our study showed that when patients are confronted with what they perceive as a medical emergency, the quality of the relationship with the GP, in particular the continuity of care provided, seem to be the major reasons why they consult their GP rather than an ED.

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