Safety-netting in routine primary care consultations: an observational study using video-recorded UK consultations

Peter Edwards, Matthew Ridd, Emily Sanderson, Rebecca Barnes

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

22 Citations (Scopus)
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Background Safety-netting advice is information shared with a patient or their carer designed to help them identify the need to seek further medical help if their condition fails to improve, changes, or if they have concerns about their health.

Aim To assess when and how safety-netting advice is delivered in routine GP consultations.

Design and setting This was an observational study using 318 recorded GP consultations with adult patients in the UK.

Method A safety-netting coding tool was applied to all consultations. Logistic regression for the presence or absence of safety-netting advice was compared between patient, clinician, and problem variables.

Results A total of 390 episodes of safety-netting advice were observed in 205/318 (64.5%) consultations for 257/555 (46.3%) problems. Most advice was initiated by the GP (94.9%) and delivered in the treatment planning (52.1%) or closing (31.5%) consultation phases. Specific advice was delivered in almost half (47.2%) of episodes. Safety-netting advice was more likely to be present for problems that were acute (odds ratio [OR] 2.18, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.30 to 3.64), assessed first in the consultation (OR 2.94, 95% CI = 1.85 to 4.68) or assessed by GPs aged ≤49 years (OR 2.56, 95% CI = 1.45 to 4.51). Safety-netting advice was documented for only 109/242 (45.0%) problems.

Conclusion GPs appear to commonly give safety-netting advice, but the contingencies or actions required on the patient’s part may not always be specific or documented. The likelihood of safety-netting advice being delivered may vary according to characteristics of the problem or the GP. How to assess safety-netting outcomes in terms of patient benefits and harms does warrant further exploration.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberbjgp19X706601
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2019


  • health communication
  • patient safety
  • primary care
  • safety netting
  • video-recording


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