While motives for emergency department (ED) self-referrals have been investigated in a number of studies, the relevance of general practitioner (GP) care for these patients has not been comprehensively evaluated. Respiratory symptoms constitute an important utilization trigger in both EDs and in primary care. In this qualitative study, we aimed to explore the role of GP care for patients visiting EDs as outpatients for respiratory complaints and the relevance of the relationship between patient and GP in the decision making process leading up to an ED visit.
Qualitative descriptive study. Semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with a sample of 17 respiratory ED patients in Berlin, Germany. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Qualitative content analysis was performed. The study was embedded into the EMACROSS (Emergency and Acute Care for Respiratory Diseases beyond Sectoral Separation) cohort of ED patients with respiratory symptoms, which is part of EMANet (Emergency and Acute Medicine Network for Health Care Research).
Three patterns of GP utilization could be differentiated: long-term regular consulters, sporadic consulters and patients without GP. In sporadic consulters and patients without GP, an ambivalent or even aversive view of GP care was prevalent, with lack of confidence in GPs’ competence and a deficit in trust as seemingly relevant influencing factors. Regardless of utilization or relationship type, patients frequently made contact with a GP before visiting an ED.
With regard to respiratory symptoms, our qualitative data suggest a hypothesis of limited relevance of patients’ primary care utilization pattern and GP-patient relationship for ED consultation decisions.