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Br J Gen Pract. 1999 Nov;49(448):875-9.

Patients' reasons for not presenting emotional problems in general practice consultations.

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  • 1Camden and Islington Community Health Services, London.



Patients commonly do not mention emotional problems in consultations, and this is a factor in general practitioners' (GPs') difficulty in identifying psychological morbidity.


To investigate patients' self-reported reasons for not disclosing psychological problems in consultations with GPs.


From nine general practices, a sample of patients with high General Health Questionnaire scores, who planned to present only somatic symptoms to the GP, were interviewed after their consultation with the GP. The interview covered their reasons for not mentioning emotional problems. A patient satisfaction questionnaire was administered.


A total of 83 patients were interviewed. Sixty-four patients confirmed that they had not mentioned emotional problems in the consultation; 23 (36%) of these gave primarily realistic reasons for not presenting emotional problems (e.g. able to cope with distress), 29 (45%) gave reasons related to psychological embarrassment or hesitation to trouble the GP, and 12 (19%) were mainly deterred by the doctors' interview behaviours. The latter group had significantly lower satisfaction scores than patients in the other two groups. In addition, patients in all groups commonly reported perceptions of lack of time (48%) and that there is nothing doctors can do to help (39%) as barriers to mentioning emotional problems.


An understanding of patients' reasons for not disclosing emotional problems can assist in identifying subgroups of patients with different management needs.

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