Cancer patients willing to wait longer for GPs with good listening skills

Patients with high-risk cancer symptoms are prepared to wait longer to see a GP who they feel has great listening skills, researchers have found.

GPs’ listening skills are the top priority for patients who are concerned they may have cancer, a British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) study has suggested.

Researchers said the report would help understand barriers to consulting in primary care – which could be used to convince patients to present earlier.

Prompt presentations with cancer symptoms in primary care would improve clinical outcomes in some cases and patient experience in nearly all, they added.

They quizzed 600 adults aged 50 or over using an online questionnaire. Respondents were presented with three symptom scenarios – one where risk level was not mentioned, one with risk designated as ‘low’ and another with risk as ‘high’.

Cancer symptoms

The results suggest patients are willing to trade away shorter waiting times to ensure they saw a doctor who they felt was good at listening to them.

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.

They said they would wait an extra week for an appointment with a GP of their choice rather than any GP.

The preferences did not vary across symptom severity, type or other socioeconomic associations.

‘Patient decisions about help seeking seem to be particularly influenced by the anticipated listening skills of doctors,’ the study authors said. ‘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. GPC prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green told GPonline in 2015 that appointments should be 15 minutes long, and GPs given better access to tests to improve cancer diagnosis in primary care.

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