What happens when the doctor denies a patient's request? A qualitative interview study among general practitioners in Norway

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Stein Nilsen, Kirsti Malterud

Objective: To explore general practitioners (GPs’) experiences from consultations when a patient’s request is denied, and outcomes of such incidents.

Design and participants: We conducted a qualitative study with semi-structured individual interviews with six GPs in Norway. We asked them to tell about experiences from specific encounters where they had refused a patient’s request. The texts were analysed with Systematic Text Condensation, a method for thematic cross-case analysis.

Main outcome measures: Accounts of experiences from consultations when GPs refused their patients’ requests.

Results: Subjects of dispute included clinical topics like investigation and treatment, certification regarding welfare benefits and medico-legal issues, and administrative matters. The arguments took different paths, sometimes settled by reaching common ground but more often as unresolved disagreement with anger or irritation from the patient, sometimes with open hostility and violence. The aftermath and outcomes of these disputes lead to strong emotional impact where the doctors reflected upon the incidents and sometimes regretted their handling of the consultation. Some long-standing and close patient–doctor relationships were injured or came to an end.

Conclusions: The price for denying a patient’s request may be high, and GPs find themselves uncomfortable in such encounters. Skills pertaining to this particular challenge could be improved though education and training, drawing attention to negotiation of potential conflicts. Also, the notion that doctors have a professional commitment to his or her own autonomy and to society should be restored, through increased emphasis on core professional ethics in medical education at all levels.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care
Volume35
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)201-207
Number of pages7
ISSN0281-3432
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

    Research areas

  • Family practice, disputes, decision-making, shared, doctor patient relation, personal autonomy, professional autonomy, qualitative research

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