Disclosing the diagnosis of dementia: the performance of Flemish general practitioners

J De Lepeleire, F Buntinx, B Aertgeerts
International Psychogeriatrics 2004, 16 (4): 421-8

BACKGROUND: This issue of whether or not, how and when patients should be told of the diagnosis of dementia remains a matter for discussion. Recent data confirm that the patient is told of the diagnosis in only 40 to 55% of cases. We therefore studied the performance of Flemish general practitioners (GPs) in this area.

METHOD: A postal questionnaire, based on that prepared by Johnson et al., was sent to a random sample of 1000 Flemish GPs, out of a total of 7000.

RESULTS: A total of 647 answers were returned, of which 521 were eligible for analysis (response rate 60%). Thirty-six percent of these 521 GPs always or usually disclose the diagnosis, while 37% provide information about the prognosis. Most doctors (75%) see benefits in disclosure, particularly as regards planning care, providing treatment and encouraging a good doctor-patient relationship. Only 61% of respondents present an appropriate differential diagnosis.

DISCUSSION: The results obtained from the Flemish GPs are similar to those of other known studies. A detailed analysis of the reasons for and the benefits of disclosing the diagnosis reveal a less reluctant attitude than could be inferred from the rough data. GPs pay a great deal of attention to the patient's feelings, experiences and ability to cope and to the proper timing of their information. However, intensive educational projects have to be set up in order to stimulate a more etiologically-oriented diagnosis and to improve the quality of the process of disclosing the diagnosis of dementia.

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