Background: Acute respiratory tract infection (RTI) is the most common reason why parents consult primary care in the UK. Little is known about parents' perceptions of what may help them to make an appropriate decision to consult when their child is ill and how to improve self-care.Using qualitative methods, this study aimed to explore parents' views on support and information needs prior to consulting when children have RTIs with cough, and identify the triggers and barriers to consulting primary care.
Methods: 7 focus groups and 30 semi-structured interviews were held with 60 parents (with children aged 5 months - 17 years) from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. Topics discussed were informed by the Health Belief Model, and explored parents' concerns and beliefs about susceptibility and severity of RTIs, beliefs about the triggers and barriers to consulting, and information and support seeking behaviour undertaken before consulting primary care. Discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed using thematic methods.
Results: Parents from all socio-economic backgrounds sought information from a wide range of sources about RTIs in children in order to identify which of their child's symptoms should be of concern and trigger a visit to the doctor. The perception of threat to a child of RTI (with cough) was increased with more severe illness and by perceived susceptibility to illness of a particular child; whilst experience with other children increased parental efficacy to cope with childhood cough at home. Psychological models of health behaviour informed the understanding of cultural beliefs and attitudes that underpin health related behaviours.
Conclusion: A wide range of perceptions influence the likelihood that parents will seek help from primary care for a child with cough; these perceptions are similar across socio-economic groups. Parents' experience, confidence and efficacy influence the likelihood of consulting primary care for their child's RTI. Parents would value consistent advice from a trusted source that addresses common concerns and supports home care and decision making about help seeking.