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Clinician-identified problems and solutions for delayed diagnosis in primary care

Delayed diagnosis in primary care is a common, harmful and costly to patients and health systems. Its measurement and monitoring are underdeveloped and underutilised. A recent study from Imperial College London published in BMC Family Practice created and implemented a novel approach to identify problems leading to and solutions for delayed diagnosis in primary care. We developed a novel priority-setting method for patient safety problems and solutions called PRIORITIZE. We invited more than 500 NW London clinicians via an open-ended questionnaire to identify three main problems and solutions relating to delayed diagnosis in primary care. 113 clinicians submitted their suggestions which were grouped into a composite list of 33 distinct problems and 27 solutions. A random group of 75 clinicians from the initial cohort scored these and an overall ranking was derived.

The top ranked problems were poor communication between secondary and primary care and the inverse care law, i.e. a mismatch between patients’ medical needs and healthcare supply. The highest ranked solutions included: a more rigorous system of communicating abnormal results of investigations to patients, direct hotlines to specialists for GPs to discuss patient problems and better training of primary care clinicians in relevant areas. A priority highlighted throughout the findings is a need to improve communication between clinicians as well as with patients. The highest ranked suggestions had the highest consensus between experts.

The novel method we have developed is highly feasible, informative and scalable, and merits wider exploration with a view of becoming part of a routine pro-active and preventative system for patient safety assessment. Clinicians proposed a range of concrete suggestions with an emphasis on improving communication among clinicians and with patients and better GP training. In their view, delayed diagnosis can often be prevented with interventions requiring relatively minor investment. Rankings of identified problems and solutions can serve as an aid to policy makers and commissioners of care in allocating healthcare resources.

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