Background: Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders account for 10% of all consultations in primary care. Little is known about the management of GI disorders by general practitioners (GP) across different European countries.
Aim and methods: We undertook a postal survey of randomly selected samples of GPs in six European countries (UK, Holland, Spain, Greece, Poland, Czech Republic) to determine patterns of diagnosis, management and service use in GI disorders.
Results: We received 939 responses, response rate 32%. Over 80% of GPs were aware of at least three national guidelines for gastrointestinal disease. The availability of open access endoscopy ranged from 28% (Poland) to over 80% (Holland, Czech and UK). For uninvestigated dyspepsia the preferred first line management was proton pump inhibitor therapy (33-82%), Helicobacter pylori test and treat (19-47%), early endoscopy (5-32%), specialist referral (2-21%). Regarding irritable bowel syndrome, 23% of respondents were familiar with one or more diagnostic criteria, but between 7% (Netherlands) and 32% (Poland) would ask for a specialist opinion before making the diagnosis.
Conclusion: The wide variation between GPs both between and within countries partly reflects variations in health care systems but also differing levels of knowledge and awareness, factors which are relevant to educational and research policy.