Primary care for elderly people: why do doctors find it so hard?

Gerontologist. 2002 Dec;42(6):835-42. doi: 10.1093/geront/42.6.835.


Purpose: Many primary care physicians find caring for elderly patients difficult. The goal of this study was to develop a detailed understanding of why physicians find primary care with elderly patients difficult.

Design and methods: We conducted in-depth interviews with 20 primary care physicians. Using an iterative approach based on grounded theory techniques, a multidisciplinary team analyzed the content of the interviews and developed a conceptual model of the difficulty.

Results: Three major domains of difficulty emerged: (i) medical complexity and chronicity, (ii) personal and interpersonal challenges, and (iii) administrative burden. The greatest challenge occurred when difficulty in more than one area was present. Contextual conditions, such as the practice environment and the physician's training and personal values, shaped the experience of providing care and how difficult it seemed.

Implications: Much of the difficulty participants experienced could be facilitated by changes in the health care delivery system and in medical education. The voices of these physicians and the model resulting from our analysis can inform such change.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Geriatrics*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Primary Health Care*