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Gaps in continuity of care at the interface between primary care and specialized care: general practitioners' experiences and expectations.

INTRODUCTION: Discontinuity of care at the interface between inpatient and outpatient management can lead to increased morbidity and mortality. Appropriate communication and flow of information is indispensable to ensure continuity of care. Consequently, the aim of this study was to assess general practitioners' (GPs) experiences of cooperation with a university hospital, as well as their needs and obvious barriers regarding an optimized information flow.

METHODS: A qualitative study was performed. In March 2011, 300 GPs from the Zurich Canton were invited to participate in two focus group meetings. Based on a review of the literature, an interview guide was created addressing two main issues. In the first part, experiences and barriers regarding cooperation with the university were explored. In the second part, needs and suggestions to improve cooperation were addressed.

RESULTS: Fifteen GPs participated in two focus groups. GPs complained that they have often not been adequately informed about ongoing treatments or appointments for their patients. GPs feel responsible for the continuity of care and wish to be more involved, especially in long-term treatment decisions or at the end of life. By not involving them, they stated, important information concerning patients' medical history and social setting was not taken into account. Improvements are also required at discharge: GPs often do not receive important information about treatments in the hospital and further requirements within a reasonable time.

CONCLUSION: Exchange of information between the hospital and the GP at admission and discharge is essential. However, at present, involvement during hospitalization of the patient is lacking. This includes the exchange of information after an unexpected clinical procedure and input from GPs when difficult clinical decisions are made, such as at the beginning or termination of long-term therapies.

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