Background: Delay in cancer diagnosis may have serious prognostic consequences, and some patients experience delays lasting several months. However, we have no knowledge whether such delays are associated with general practitioner (GP) characteristics. The aim of the present study was to analyse whether GP and practice characteristics are associated with the length of delay in cancer diagnosis.
Methods: The study was designed as a population-based cohort study. The setting was the County of Aarhus, Denmark (640,000 inhabitants). Participants include 334 GPs and their 1,525 consecutive, newly diagnosed cancer patients. During one year (September 2004 to August 2005), patients with incident cancer were enrolled from administrative registries. GPs completed questionnaires on the patients' diagnostic pathways and on GP and practice characteristics. Delay was categorised as patient-related (more than 60 days), doctor-related (more than 30 days) and system-related (more than 90 days). The associations between delay and characteristics were assessed in a logistic regression model using odds ratios (ORs).
Results: No GP characteristics (seniority, practice organization, list size, participation in continuing medical education, job satisfaction and level of burnout) were associated with doctor delay. Patients of female GPs more often had a short patient delay than patients of male GPs (OR 0.44, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.28 to 0.71). Patients whose GPs provided many services (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.44 to 0.95) and patients attending GPs with little former knowledge of their patients (OR 0.68, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.99) more often experienced a short system delay than patients attending GPs with less activity and more knowledge of their patients. Patients listed with a female GP more often experienced a long system delay than patients of male GPs (OR 1.50, 95% CI 1.02 to 2.21). Finally, patients with low GP-reported compliance more often experienced a long system delay (OR 1.73, 95% CI 1.07 to 2.80) than patients with higher compliance.
Conclusions: GP characteristics were not statistically significantly associated with doctor delay. However, some GP characteristics were associated with patient and system delay, which indicates that these factors may be important for understanding patient delay (e.g. perceived GP accessibility and the GP-patient relationship) and system delay (e.g. the GP's experience and opportunities for referring and coordinating diagnostic work-up).