'I'm fishing really' - inflammatory marker testing in primary care: a qualitative study

Jessica C Watson, Isabel O C de Salis, William T Hamilton, Chris J Salisbury

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

19 Citations (Scopus)
365 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Inflammatory markers can be helpful as part of the diagnostic workup for specific diseases or for monitoring disease activity. A third use is as a screening/triage tool to differentiate between the presence or absence of disease. Most research into inflammatory markers looks at diagnosis of specific diseases and comes from secondary care. Qualitative studies to explore when and why clinicians use these tests in primary care are lacking.

Aim: To identify clinicians approaches to inflammatory marker testing in primary care.

Design and setting: Qualitative study with 26 GPs and nurse practitioners.
Method: Interviews were conducted using a semi-structured topic guide. Clinicians reviewed recent cases of inflammatory marker testing in their pathology inbox. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Qualitative analysis was conducted by two independent researchers.

Results: Clinicians are uncertain about the appropriate use of inflammatory markers and differ in their approach to testing patients with undifferentiated symptoms. Normal or significantly elevated inflammatory markers are seen as helpful but mildly raised inflammatory markers in the context of non-specific symptoms are difficult to interpret. Clinicians describe a tension between not wanting to ‘miss anything’ and, on the other hand, being wary of picking up borderline abnormalities which can lead to cascades of further tests. Diagnostic uncertainty is a common reason for inflammatory marker testing, aiming to reassure, however paradoxically inconclusive results can generate a cycle of uncertainty and anxiety.

Conclusion: Further research is needed to define when inflammatory marker testing is useful in primary care and how to interpret results.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e200-e203
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number644
Early online date8 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • acute-phase proteins
  • C-reactive protein
  • diagnosis
  • general practice
  • primary health care
  • qualitative research


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