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How do colorectal cancer patients rate their GP: a mixed methods study

Background: New Zealand (NZ) has a high incidence of colorectal cancer (CRC) and low rates of early diagnosis. With screening not yet nationwide, the majority of CRC is diagnosed through general practice. A good patient-general practitioner (GP) relationship can facilitate prompt diagnosis, but when there is a breakdown in this relationship, delays can occur. Delayed diagnosis of CRC in NZ receives a disproportionally high number of complaints directed against GPs, suggesting deficits in the patient-GP connection. We aimed to investigate patient-reported confidence and ratings of their GP following the diagnostic process. Methods: This study is a mixed methods analysis of responses to a structured questionnaire and free text comments from patients newly diagnosed with CRC in the Midland region of NZ. A total of 195 patients responded to the structured questionnaire, and 113 patients provided additional free text comments. Descriptive statistics were used to describe the study population and chi square analysis determined the statistical significance of factors possibly linked to delay. Free text comments were analysed using a thematic framework. Results: Most participants rated their GP as ‘Very good/Good’ at communication with patients about their health conditions and involving them in decisions about their care, and 6.7% of participants rated their overall level of confidence and trust in their GP as ‘Not at all’. Age, gender, ethnicity and a longer diagnostic interval were associated with lower confidence and trust. Free text comments were grouped in to three themes: 1. GP Interpersonal skills; (communication, listening, taking patient symptoms seriously), 2. Technical competence; (speed of referral, misdiagnoses, lack of physical examination), and 3. Organisation of general practice care; (appointment length, getting an appointment, continuity of care). Conclusions: Māori, females, and younger participants were more likely to report low confidence and trust in their GP. Participants associate a poor diagnostic experience with deficits in the interpersonal and technical skills of their GP, and health system factors within general practice. Short appointment times, access to appointments and poor GP continuity are important components of how patients assess their experience and are particularly important to ensure equal access for Māori patients.
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