GP’s perspectives on laboratory test use for monitoring long-term conditions: an audit of current testing practice

Martha M C Elwenspoek*, Ed Mann, Katharine Alsop, Hannah Clark, Rita Patel, Jessica C Watson, Penny F Whiting

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Abstract

Background
We have shown previously that current recommendations in UK guidelines for monitoring long-term conditions are largely based on expert opinion. Due to a lack of robust evidence on optimal monitoring strategies and testing intervals, the guidelines are unclear and incomplete. This uncertainty may underly variation in testing that has been observed across the UK between GP practices and regions.

Methods
Our objective was to audit current testing practices of GPs in the UK; in particular, perspectives on laboratory tests for monitoring long-term conditions, the workload, and how confident GPs are in ordering and interpreting these tests. We designed an online survey consisting of multiple-choice and open-ended questions that was promoted on social media and in newsletters targeting GPs practicing in UK. The survey was live between October-November 2019. The results were analysed using a mixed-methods approach.

Results
The survey was completed by 550 GPs, of whom 69% had more than 10 years of experience. The majority spent more than 30 minutes per day on testing (78%), but only half of the respondents felt confident in dealing with abnormal results (53%). There was a high level of disagreement for whether liver function tests and full blood counts should be done ‘routinely’, ‘sometimes’, or ‘never’ in patients with a certain long-term condition.
The free text comments revealed three common themes: (1) pressures that promote over-testing, i.e. guidelines or protocols, workload from secondary care, fear of missing something, patient expectations; (2) negative consequences of over-testing, i.e. increased workload and patient harm; and (3) uncertainties due to lack of evidence and unclear guidelines.

Conclusion
These results confirm the variation that has been observed in test ordering data. The results also show that most GPs spent a significant part of their day ordering and interpreting monitoring tests. The lack of confidence in knowing how to act on abnormal test results underlines the urgent need for robust evidence on optimal testing and the development of clear and unambiguous testing recommendations. Uncertainties surrounding optimal testing has resulted in an over-use of tests, which leads to a waste of resources, increased GP workload and potential patient harm.
Original languageEnglish
Article number257 (2020)
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Family Practice
Volume21
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2020

Keywords

  • General practice
  • Optimal testing
  • Chronic disease monitoring

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