Information-seeking behaviours and uncertainty around accessing primary care in the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative study

BJGP Open. 2022 Mar 22;6(1):BJGPO.2021.0151. doi: 10.3399/BJGPO.2021.0151. Print 2022 Mar.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable. Public health messaging has been vital to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, but messages intended to slow the transmission of the virus may also cause harm. Understanding the areas where public health messaging could be improved may help reduce this harm.

Aim: To explore and understand health communication issues faced by those most likely to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design & setting: A qualitative study using online surveys. The area of focus was Fife, a local authority in Scotland, UK.

Method: Two consecutive surveys were conducted. Survey 1 explored the observations of support workers and Facebook group moderators, and focused on key issues faced by service users, as well as examples of good practice (n = 19). Survey 2 was aimed at community members, and focused on issues regarding access to and communication around access to primary care (n = 34).

Results: Survey 1 found broad issues around communication and access to primary care services. Survey 2 emphasised key issues in accessing primary care, including: (a) the lengthy process of making appointments; (b) feeling like a burden for wanting to be seen; (c) a lack of confidence in remote triaging and consultations; and (d) not knowing what to expect before getting an appointment.

Conclusion: Clear issues regarding access to primary care were identified. The new understanding of these issues will inform a co-creation process designed to develop clear, actionable, and effective public health messages centred on improving access to primary care.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; care seeking; health information; primary health care.