Psychological and social problems in primary care patients - general practitioners' assessment and classification

Scand J Prim Health Care. 2013 Mar;31(1):43-9. doi: 10.3109/02813432.2012.751688. Epub 2013 Jan 3.


Objective: To estimate the frequency of psychological and social classification codes employed by general practitioners (GPs) and to explore the extent to which GPs ascribed health problems to biomedical, psychological, or social factors.

Design: A cross-sectional survey based on questionnaire data from GPs. Setting. Danish primary care.

Subjects: 387 GPs and their face-to-face contacts with 5543 patients.

Main outcome measures: GPs registered consecutive patients on registration forms including reason for encounter, diagnostic classification of main problem, and a GP assessment of biomedical, psychological, and social factors' influence on the contact.

Results: The GP-stated reasons for encounter largely overlapped with their classification of the managed problem. Using the International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC-2-R), GPs classified 600 (11%) patients with psychological problems and 30 (0.5%) with social problems. Both codes for problems/complaints and specific disorders were used as the GP's diagnostic classification of the main problem. Two problems (depression and acute stress reaction/adjustment disorder) accounted for 51% of all psychological classifications made. GPs generally emphasized biomedical aspects of the contacts. Psychological aspects were given greater importance in follow-up consultations than in first-episode consultations, whereas social factors were rarely seen as essential to the consultation.

Conclusion: Psychological problems are frequently seen and managed in primary care and most are classified within a few diagnostic categories. Social matters are rarely considered or classified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Denmark
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / classification
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Social Problems*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires