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Title: Patient perspectives on medical errors in general practice
Author: Varnam, Robert
ISNI:       0000 0004 2688 2208
Awarding Body: The University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2010
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Patient safety is as an increasingly active field of research and policy in the UK and around the world. The prevailing academic model for understanding the cause of patient safety incidents considers failures in cognitive and system aspects of care to playa role, with an emphasis on system factors in preventing harm. General practitioners (GPs) are the first port of call for a wide range of undifferentiated medical, psychological and social problems, presented by patients with whom they may form lasting relationships. The priorities and processes of care in general practice are consequently less clearly defined, more individualised and more strongly influenced by the people involved than in the hospital settings where the existing model was developed. Research in general practice has thus far been conducted from a professional standpoint, using doctors' reports to detect and understand safety incidents. Patients may bring a valuable new perspective to understanding the nature, incidence and cause of adverse events in general practice, allowing the existing model to be refined. This study aimed to provide a detailed description and analysis of patients' perspective on episodes of care they regarded as regrettable. A qualitative approach was used, conducting in-depth interviews with 34 patients whose healthcare experiences made them likely to be good key informants regarding patient safety issues in general practice. An adaptive theorising approach was used, to allow grounded insights arising from the empirical data to be interpreted in the light of, and to add to the development of, theories about the causation of adverse events. The results showed respondents' evaluations of GPs' medical performance to be contingent on their expectations, prior experiences and the doctor-patient relationship. They understood the quality and safety of GPs' care to be determined by their knowledge, skills and an attitude of professional commitment, using this understanding to inform the attribution of responsibility or blame for their experiences of care. This approach differed from the prevailing academic model in that it focussed on errors more than adverse outcomes, placed a strong emphasis on the importance of personal and relational factors in error causation and paid relatively little attention to the role of system factors. It identified diagnostic error as a significant issue in general practice, highlighting the dependence of technical aspects of care upon the GP's personal and interpersonal performance. Having sufficient professional commitment to choose to perform well was seen as a prerequisite for the safe application of knowledge and skills. Even where little or no physical harm was sustained, errors attributed to a failing in professional commitment could result in Significant psychological distress, loss of trust, and changes in future help-seeking behaviour. Interpersonal aspects of care and personal factors in GP performance appear to be key influences on safety in this context. This has implications for the focus of safety improvement efforts, which may need to take more account of the role of the individual professional, alongside issues of human factors and system design. A renewed emphasis is recommended on traditional values of altruistic professionalism and personal responsibility. Patients may make good partners in improving safety, provided it is acknowledged that their perspective is subject to socially patterned biases, and that they are sometimes hesitant to challenge medical authority.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available