Background: To investigate general practitioners' (GPs') attitudes to guidelines for elective surgical referral in England. To understand their use of guidelines, and attitudes to shared decision making in the referral decision.
Methods: A questionnaire was developed which investigated attitudes to and use of guidelines. It was given to a stratified random sample 30% (n = 310) drawn from GP lists of 10 English health districts (primary care trusts (PCTs)). GPs were invited to respond online, by telephone, fax or post. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and backwards stepwise logistic regression.
Results: Responses were representative of GPs in England, but (despite up to 6 contacts per non-responder) the overall response rate was 41.6% (n = 129; with the range across PCTs of 25-61%). Most responding GPs indicated support for referral guidelines but 18% reported that they had never used them. Less than three per cent reported use for most or all referral decisions. The odds of using guidelines decreased with increasing age, with a ten year increase in age associated with halving odds of use (OR = 0.53, 95%CI = 0.29-0.90). Over 50% of GPs wanted good access to electronic guidelines with expert information and advice on guideline availability. Almost all (>89%) GPs agreed with sharing referral decisions with patients. Female doctors (OR = 5.2, 95%CI: 1.02-26.3) were more likely to agree with this than male GPs as were those working in larger compared to small or single handed practices (OR = 5.3, 95%CI: 1.4-19.9).
Conclusions: This group of responding GPs was supportive of guidelines but used them in different ways. Referral guidelines should have an educational component for background reading; include key messages for internalisation and application; and incorporate mechanisms to facilitate accessibility and appropriate shared decision making with patients.