Doctor-patient interaction for irritable bowel syndrome in primary care: a systematic perspective

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2004 Nov;16(11):1161-6. doi: 10.1097/00042737-200411000-00013.


Background and aims: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is defined by specific validated symptom criteria and encompasses several different underlying pathophysiological mechanisms that express a common set of symptoms. However, IBS is poorly understood by patients. We aimed to explore how a diagnosis of IBS affects the interaction between patients and their physicians.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search for studies in the English language addressing this issue was conducted using Medline, PubMed, Cochrane Database, Psychinfo, Cinahl, Embase, Web of Science and manual recursive search of reference lists. Investigators reviewed and abstracted data from articles fulfilling our inclusion criteria: primary care patients, all ages, gender and ethnic groups diagnosed with IBS by a general practitioner (GP).

Results: Retrieval of 121 articles generated only four that met inclusion criteria. Research methods of three studies relied solely on qualitative subjective, anecdotal patient narratives, a bias in favor of patients' negative opinion, absence of objective physician diagnostic criteria, pre-testing questions for two studies, follow-up and patient verification of accounts for accuracy. The fourth study included objective physician diagnostic criteria, quantitative measures, a pre-testing questionnaire, and both patient and doctor perspectives. There was a disparity between patient and GP perception regarding the nature, severity and consequences of IBS in primary care, leading patients to perceive this interaction as one of dissatisfaction. The fourth study revealed GP management of IBS mostly meets patient's expectations areas of concern centered on etiology, diagnostic criteria and dietary advice. Disparity seems to lie with the physician, who needs to provide more trust, knowledge, and sympathy, create rapport and be forthcoming with information, while keeping information simple and understandable. Patient dissatisfaction stems from the actual information provided and how this is communicated.

Conclusions: There is evidence that some IBS patients in primary care experience dissatisfaction and negative attitudes in GP interactions. Future research should take into account personality attributes and cross-situational stability in addition to methodological implications of studies. GPs may be the first avenue for IBS patients to vent their frustration, and appropriate education programs for optimal management of patients with IBS are needed in primary care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / therapy
  • Male
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Research Design
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires