Poor communication may impair optimal asthma care: a qualitative study

Mandy Moffat, Jennifer Cleland, Thys van der Molen, David Price
Family Practice 2007, 24 (1): 65-70

BACKGROUND: Despite asthma being primarily managed in general practice and primary care, there is little research into the issues and tools which may impact on managing poorly controlled asthma in this setting.

OBJECTIVE: To explore the views of health care professionals (HCPs) towards asthma guidelines and self-management plans (SMPs) to identify why these are not used routinely in general practice.

METHODS: Data from 54 HCPs [GPs and practice nurses (PNs)] in north-east Scotland were collected via qualitative interviews and focus groups. Participant views and experience of asthma guidelines and SMPs were explored.

RESULTS: Participants had mainly positive attitudes towards guidelines and SMPs, although both were used only when deemed suitable by the individual. Suitability depended on individual patient issues (e.g. psychosocial factors, level of control) and/or professional issues (e.g. ease of use, time available, job roles). Patient issues were viewed as impacting on asthma control directly and, indirectly, as the main reason for not using guidelines or SMPs with a patient. HCPs reported lacking necessary communication skills for dealing with patient asthma control issues, particularly where these were non-medical. Professional and organizational issues such as training and communication were also perceived as impairing asthma management.

CONCLUSION: Our findings indicate that guidelines are seen as providing the 'why' of helping asthma patients' self-manage but not the 'what to...' or 'how to...' communicate. Poor professional-patient communication seems largely to explain the poor uptake of SMPs and guideline use in general practice and primary care. This limitation is more obvious to professionals when they are working with patients with poorly controlled asthma. There is a need to identify key communication skills for effective professional-patient partnership in adult asthma management, and to develop robust strategies for effectively training GPs and PNs in enhancing these skills.

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