A study published in the British Journal of General Practice suggests that the listening skills of general practitioners are a top priority for patients concerned that they might have cancer.
Researchers involved in compiling the report suggest that the study will play a major role in helping clinicians understand barriers to consultation in primary care, and that this can be used to convince patients to present at an earlier date.
Prompt presentations with cancer symptoms in primary care can have a significant impact on clinical outcomes in many cases, while patient experiences will be enhanced in nearly every scenario, according to the journal.
Scientists associated with the British Journal of General Practice surveyed 600 individuals aged 50 or over, utilising an online questionnaire in order to do so.
All respondents were presented with three scenarios, one where risk level was not mentioned, one with risk designated as ‘low’ and another with risk as ‘high’.
Results garnered by researchers indicates that patients are willing to swap shorter waiting times in order to ensure that they are able to connect with a doctor with outstanding listening skills.
Indeed, respondents indicated they would wait for up to three and a half weeks longer to get an appointment with a doctor with good or very good listening skills versus very poor listening skills.
And those responding to the survey also indicated that they would wait an extra week for an appointment with a GP of their choice rather than a random GP.
This was very much a blanket response from those involved, as preferences showed no variation across symptom severity, type or other socioeconomic associations.
In concluding remarks, the authors of the study noted that patients suffering from cancer considered listening skills to be particularly valuable.
“Patient decisions about help seeking seem to be particularly influenced by the anticipated listening skills of doctors. Improving doctors’ communication skills may in the longer term encourage people to seek prompt medical help when they experience a cancer symptom.”
GP leaders have warned that 10-minute appointments are a major barrier to early diagnosis of cancer.
And GPC prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green commented in 2015 that appointments should be 15 minutes long, and GPs given better access to tests to improve cancer diagnosis in primary care.
Previous research has indicated that appointment times in the British healthcare system are shorter than in any other comparable European nation.
Meanwhile, the crisis in general practice is well-documented, with many authoritative bodies and individuals calling on the government to provide additional funding.
In response to this, the government has pledged to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by the end of the decade, but there is scepticism whether these targets will be met, let alone whether it is adequate.