Prioritising physical and psychological symptoms: what are the barriers and facilitators to the discussion of anxiety in the primary care consultation?
M. C. Barnes, D. Kessler, C. Archer & N. Wiles
Anxiety is under-recorded and under-treated in the UK and is under-represented in research compared with depression. Detecting anxiety can be difficult because of co-existing conditions. GPs can be reluctant to medicalise anxiety symptoms and patients can be reluctant to disclose them, for a variety of reasons. This research addresses the gap in evidence of real-life consultations of patients with anxiety and explores how physical and psychological symptoms are discussed and prioritised by patients and GPs in primary care consultations. Methods: A mixed methods study using a baseline questionnaire, video-recorded primary care consultations and interview data with patients and GPs. Results: Seventeen patients with anxiety symptoms (GAD-7 score ≥ 10) completed a questionnaire, had their consultation video-recorded and took part in a semi-structured interview. Four GPs were interviewed. The main themes that emerged from GP and patients accounts as barriers and facilitators to discussing anxiety mostly mirrored each other. The GP/patient relationship and continuity of care was the main facilitator for the discussion of anxiety in the consultation. The main barriers were: attribution of or unacknowledged symptoms; co-morbidities; and time constraints. GPs overcame these barriers by making repeat appointments and employing prioritising techniques; patients by choosing an empathetic GP. Conclusions: The findings add to the evidence base concerning the management of anxiety in primary care. The findings suggest that the discussion around anxiety is a process negotiated between the patient and the GP influenced by a range of barriers and facilitators. Co-existing depression and health anxieties can mask anxiety symptoms in patients. Good practice techniques such as bringing back patients for appointments to foster continuity of care and understanding can help disclosure and detection of anxiety symptoms. Future research could investigate this longitudinally and should include a wider range of GPs practices and GPs.