How research-conscious GPs make decisions about anticoagulation in patients with atrial fibrillation: a qualitative study

Fam Pract. 2004 Jun;21(3):290-8. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmh313.


Background: Delays in the implementation of research findings have been of particular concern during the last decade. New findings, such as the use of warfarin to prevent stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation, have been found to be implemented patchily in clinical practice, in both primary and secondary care.

Objective: The purpose [corrected] of the study was to explore how GPs with an active interest in research or evidence-based medicine (EBM) make decisions about anticoagulation in patients with atrial fibrillation.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews with GPs about their experiences in managing patients with atrial fibrillation were recorded on audio-tape, transcribed and analysed using the 'Framework' method. A constructivist approach was taken to analysis and interpretation.

Results: Eleven interviews were included in the analysis. Two key themes, 'evidence' and 'professional role', were identified. No two respondents had the same perception of the evidence, which was influenced by experience, attitudes and a variable knowledge of the literature. Recent publications about the effectiveness of aspirin compared with warfarin, and the publication Clinical Evidence were the most frequently mentioned sources of evidence. GPs with confidence in EBM skills described giving highly detailed explanations to patients and having a great commitment to shared decision making, even if this resulted in patients declining treatment. For this reason, they also expressed antagonism towards prescriptive clinical guidelines. Hospital doctors were seen as exerting a powerful influence on decisions, as being 'disease-centred', difficult to challenge and poor at communicating.

Conclusions: Decision making about anticoagulation is complex and is determined by a socially constructed view of the evidence strongly influenced by the GP's professional role.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Decision Making*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician's Role*
  • Research
  • Warfarin / therapeutic use*


  • Anticoagulants
  • Warfarin