Study reveals patients experiencing harmful primary healthcare

Study reveals patients experiencing harmful primary healthcare

A new study has estimated that around three million Britons believe they have experienced potentially harmful or harmful primary healthcare, a problem which can be preventable.

The research, conducted by epidemiologists at the University of Manchester, UK, and patient collaborators, estimates that 1.5 million people believe their harmful primary healthcare made their health worse.

Findings revealed a large divide between the opinions of patients and clinicians: of the 7.6% of preventable problems reported by patients, clinicians said only a small percentage might be potentially harmful.

What problems could have been avoided?

According to the study, published in BMJ Open, the problems reported by patients which could have been avoided included:

  • A patient was prescribed medication without necessary blood tests, resulting in hospital admission and cardiac arrest;
  • Dentists extracting the wrong teeth;
  • A GP failing to spot the dangers of chronic nose bleeding over several months, which turned out to be cancer; and
  • A GP failing to identify that a new mum had a retained placenta – a potentially life-threatening condition.

Miscommunication and wrong diagnoses

Around 20% of the problems reported by patients involved the prescribing of medicines, and 12% involved late and missed or wrong diagnoses.

A further 15% were communications problems – such as apparent lack of interest, not listening to patients and not passing on important information.

Around 70% of the problems reported had occurred in general practice, and another 9% in dental surgeries.

Other problems were reported by respondents in:

  • A&E;
  • Ambulance service;
  • Walk-in clinics;
  • Pharmacy;
  • Community or district nursing;
  • Opticians; and
  • Community mental health services.

Dr Jill Stocks from the University of Manchester, who led the study, said: “Our survey suggests there are probably a large number of patients in Great Britain who believe they have experienced a potentially harmful preventable problem in primary care.

“Importantly, only around half of the patients discussed their concern with somebody working in primary care, yet those that did retained a higher level of confidence and trust in their GP.”

What can be done to fix these problems?

Patient research partner and team member of the study Ailsa Donnelly said: “Our respondents told us they want more patient-centred care, more resources and better communication.

“However, we need to develop ways for patients to raise problems in care easily and discuss them with clinicians, not only to make primary care safe but, crucially, to ensure it is felt to be safe by patients. Trust is an essential part of safe care.”

Rebuilding trust with GPs

Professor of General Practice Aneez Esmail from the University of Manchester, who was also part of the research team, said: “This study shows that the views of patients are important when something goes wrong, irrespective of whether significant harm is caused.

“We also show that working with patients when something has gone wrong can help re-build trust with the GPs and other clinicians.”


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