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Patients’ concern over wasting GP time stops cancer symptom reporting

27 May 2016

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Patients are too worried about wasting their GP’s time to report cancer alarm symptoms, according to report in the British Journal of General Practice.

The study found that people interpreted long waiting times as indicating that GPs were so busy that they should only make an appointment if symptoms seemed serious.

The report, Worrying about wasting GP time as a barrier to help-seeking: a community-based, qualitative study, also found that some participants had been left to feel that they were “crying wolf too much”, which made some feel as though GPs were uninterested.

People also reported feeling more pressured during a GP appointment compared to one with a nurse.

The report said that “participants felt that sometimes an alternative healthcare practitioner, such as a nurse, a pharmacist, or even self-medication, could provide a diagnosis or treatment,” and that GP time was wasted if these other sources of medical attention were not sought first.

The study of 62 people, who reported experiencing at least one cancer alarm symptom in the last three months, also researched those who use GP services freely.

In comparison, these people believed that GPs cared about their patients and felt that the taxes they had paid meant they were entitled to use the service within reason.

As a Cancer Research UK-funded study, it was carried out at the University of Surrey and University College London.

This is the first study investigating what makes people, who are experiencing symptoms that could be cancer, concerned about wasting their GP’s time.

Dr Katriina Whitaker, co-author at the University of Surrey, said: “People worrying about wasting their doctor’s time is one of the challenges we need to tackle when thinking about trying to diagnose cancer earlier.

“We need to get to the root of the problem and find out why people are feeling worried. Not a lot of work has been done on this so far.”

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, said: “Worrying about wasting a GP’s time should not put people off. Doctors are there to help spot cancer symptoms early when treatment is more likely to be successful and delaying a visit could save up bigger problems for later.

“So if you’ve noticed anything that isn’t normal for you make an appointment to see your doctor.”