The general practitioner as the first contacted health professional by patients with psychosocial problems: a European study

W G Boerma, P F Verhaak
Psychological Medicine 1999, 29 (3): 689-96

BACKGROUND: There are considerable differences between and within countries in the involvement of general practitioners (GPs) in psychosocial care. This study aimed to describe the self-perceived role of GPs in 30 European countries as the first contacted professional for patients with psychosocial problems. and to examine the relationship with characteristics of the health care system, practice organization and doctors.

METHODS: Data collected in the European Study of GP Task Profiles were analysed in relation to the self-perceived involvement of GPs in psychosocial care. In 30 countries 7233 GPs answered standardized questionnaires in their own languages about seven brief case scenarios. The questions focused on care given as the first health care professional contacted, and were answered in a scored scale (1-4) ranging from 'never' to 'almost always'. Independent variables examined were both on a national level and on an individual level, including: listed practice population, referral system, employment status of GPs, workload, measures of practice organization, contacts with social workers and urbanization of practice area. Data were analysed using multi-level techniques.

RESULTS: Self-perceived involvement in psychosocial care was much higher in Western than in Eastern Europe and also in countries with a referral system. Cooperation with social workers, rural practice, keeping medical records, presence of an appointment system and high workload were positively associated with this perceived involvement.

CONCLUSIONS: In countries with self-employed doctors and a referral system, GPs are in a better position to provide psychosocial care. GPs should be encouraged to cooperate with social workers and to keep medical records of their patient contacts routinely.

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