Measuring patients’ help-seeking decisions: results of a pilot-scale survey using a newly developed tool

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: The aim of the study was to establish the scale and cost of ineffectively made consultations by self-referring patients across three North Wales primary care practices for 'day-to-day' conditions.

Background: Little evidence exists of the scale of ineffectively made day-to-day help-seeking by self-referral patients. Examination of this issue is compromised by the use of traditional language to describe help-seeking, which is subjective and of limited use. There is little understanding about help-seeking for day-to-day conditions. Most research on help-seeking behaviour has considered help-seeking for specific services; specific cohorts; or specific conditions, rather than help-seeking for day-to-day conditions.

Method: A survey of all routine consultations made at four general practices in North Wales over a one-week period was conducted. Using objective definitional parameters classifying routine consultations as either effectively or ineffectively made, we measured the scale of ineffective help-seeking. General practitioners categorised consultations as either effective or ineffective. Ineffectively made consultations were categorised as follows: potentially avoidable; made with the wrong healthcare professional; or made at the wrong time.

Findings: A total of 22 GPs made 1217 routine consultations for day-to-day symptoms, of which 24% were ineffectively made. Fifteen percent of consultations were potentially avoidable. Potentially avoidable consultations alone may be costing the NHS £87.85 million annually. The ineffective use of limited and scarce healthcare resources should be examined. Patient outcome may be potentially compromised directly by poor help-seeking decisions but also by ineffective use of resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-219
Number of pages6
JournalPrimary Health Care Research and Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2013


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