Impact of decision tools for early cancer diagnosis in general practice on GP workload and patient ‘flow’ during consulting sessions (PhD)

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Project Summary

Delay in diagnosing cancer in general practice causes big problems for cancer death rates. Research into which symptoms of cancer are likely to be important has led to the development of Risk Assessment Tools (RATs) that give a percentage score showing a patient’s risk of having a particular type of cancer, per symptom in question. Electronic RATs (eRATs) are now available within GPs’ computer systems and the ERICA trial will investigate whether they are effective in reducing delays with cancer diagnosis, and also whether they are cost-effective.

GPs manage a high and rising workload, due to the ageing population and more patients having multiple conditions. Decision tools such as eRATs offer an opportunity for GPs to be supported in how they manage risk of a patient having undiagnosed cancer, but we do not know the impact of using them on GPs’ workload. For example, we do not know whether using eRATs will have a knock-on effect on the length of consultations, or indeed the duration of the whole morning or afternoon clinic. Further, it is not known whether GPs use eRATs to start a conversation with a patient where their underlying cancer risk is below the level where action would normally be taken.

This PhD project will explore these issues by collecting information on consultation timings of real consulting sessions and also by presenting pretend scenarios to GPs to find out which circumstances would lead them to start a conversation with a patient about risk of underlying cancer.

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