Diagnosing skin disease in primary care: a qualitative study of GPs' approaches

Fam Pract. 2015 Oct;32(5):591-5. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmv056. Epub 2015 Jul 9.


Background: Skin diseases are a common reason for consulting a GP. This regular occurrence happens despite most GPs' lack of knowledge and training in skin disease.

Objectives: We aimed to explore different diagnostic approaches of GPs in patients presenting with a dermatological problem. In addition, we aimed to identify strategies used by GPs to handle diagnostic uncertainty in these patients.

Methods: We conducted interviews (20-40 minutes) with 14 GPs using a semi-structured guideline. Recalling encounters with patients with skin disease, GPs described their individual diagnostic strategies. Interviews were taped and transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis was conducted by two independent raters using a deductive-inductive approach.

Results: We identified several aspects of a complex decision-making process in GPs' diagnostic management of patients with dermatological problems. In the general diagnostic workup, GPs used a broad spectrum of different strategies such as spot diagnosis, stepwise refinement, pattern recognition trigger or test of treatment. GPs reduced diagnostic uncertainty through the identification of red flags, the application of the test of time, therapeutic trials and asking for further advice, including patient referral.

Conclusions: GPs encounter a broad range of dermatological problems in their daily work using a variety of strategies in the workup of these patients. However, in a significant number of patients, there remains diagnostic uncertainty that is mainly reduced by specialist referral. Regular training in the diagnosis and treatment of common dermatological diseases should be offered to all GPs.

Keywords: Decision making; dermatological diseases; diagnosis; family practice; qualitative research; skin diseases; uncertainty..

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Dermatology / education*
  • Female
  • General Practice / education
  • General Practice / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Skin Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Skin Diseases / therapy
  • Uncertainty