Patients with possible cancer delaying GP consultations

Credit: This story was first seen on The Telegraph

GPs need to improve their listening skills because patients with possible cancer are suffering delays being diagnosed as they seek out one with a good bedside manner, research suggests.

A new study found patients with possible signs of the disease will wait almost a month longer to see a GP – if it means finding someone who would listen properly to them, The Telegraph reports.

The research from University College London found that patients were so desperate to see a family doctor with a decent bedside manner that they would defer consultations even about symptoms which could be life-threatening.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments to see how more than 600 particpants weighed up decisions to see a doctor. Those enrolled in the study were assigned symptoms which could mean cancer and asked what would inform their decisions to make an appointment. Participants said they would want a short waiting time, to be able to choose their own doctor, and to find a GP with good or very good listening skills.

But the analysis, published in the British Journal of General Practice found that concerns about communication were so great, that participants were willing to wait an average of three and a half weeks extra, in order to obtain a consultation with a GP who listened properly.

Britain has some of the worst cancer survival figures in the western world, largely because of late diagnosis.

One in five patients with cancer is not diagnosed until they have arrived at an Accident and Emergency department.

Last month, a study found that the vast majority of such patients had visited their GP at least one, while quarter had been to their surgery three or more times before arriving at A&E.

Charities said the problem was exacerbated by difficulties obtaining a GP appointment.

Leading doctors have said too many patients are being forced to wait up to a month to see a family doctor, by which time problems may have become far more urgent.

Researchers from UCL and the University of Surrey said the findings suggested work needed to be done to improve the communication skills of GPs.

“In the context of experiencing a possible cancer symptom, people are willing to trade speed of access for a doctor with better interpersonal skills. It may therefore be possible to promote help seeking by improving doctors’ communication skills,” they concluded.

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