An exploratory study of GP awareness of carer emotional needs in Western Australia

Caroline E Bulsara, Noreen Fynn
BMC Family Practice 2006, 7: 33

BACKGROUND: The impact of caring for a family member or friend is a life changing experience. Often carers are struggling to cope with ongoing demands of caring for someone. At some point, most carers will approach their family physician for advice on aspects of their role. Carers Western Australia sought information and opinions of General Practitioners (GPs) regarding being a carer. This exploratory survey was to assess the perceptions of Western Australian GPs regarding their role in providing information and support to carers and their awareness of carer needs and issues.

METHODS: A telephone survey design of an opportunistic sample of 66 Western Australian GPs was conducted. The responses were both closed and open-ended questions to allow for probing of responses. Responses were analysed using both qualitative and quantitative analysis.

RESULTS: GPs are generally aware of their role in regard to carers and most doctors (88%) said that they had been approached for help in accessing services by carers. A majority of respondents said that carers and spoken to them (70%) and asked for help with (77%) emotional needs. However, when asked how these needs are met, GPs tended to provide practical assistance for the care recipient and carer as a means of addressing those needs. This primarily included providing referral to services to ensure that the carer has practical assistance in caring for the person. However, GPs are less able to provide the necessary emotional or psychological support needed by carers before crisis point is reached. Most doctors said that they had experienced difficulties in providing assistance to carers (84%) at some time.

CONCLUSION: GPs may be unable or unwilling to provide the necessary assistance to carers who are showing signs of carer burnout and stress. The GP needs to adopt a more holistic approach when treating a patient as to the interaction with the caregiver.

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