Missed opportunities in contraceptive counselling: findings from a European survey-based study with simulated patient consultation

Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2021 Dec 3;1-10. doi: 10.1080/13625187.2021.2010040. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Available evidence highlights unmet needs in contraceptive counselling practices. This study aimed to understand current practises and clinician behaviour across Europe.

Methods: A novel, online approach was used to simulate contraceptive counselling discussions based on three, predefined patient types with a hidden need: poor compliance (patient X), headaches (Y) or desire for a hormone-free option (Z). Clinicians were asked to provide guidance about a contraceptive method for their randomly assigned patient at two time points: (1) after a simulated discussion, (2) after seeing a full patient profile. Descriptive statistical analyses included evaluation of the clinicians' counselling approach and a change in contraceptive recommendation thereof.

Results: Out of 661 clinicians from 10 participating European countries, including obstetricians/gynaecologists, midwives and general practitioners, most failed to uncover patient X and Y's hidden needs (78.8% and 70.5%, respectively), whereas, 63.4% of clinicians uncovered patient Z's hidden need. Clinicians who uncovered their patients' hidden needs asked significantly more questions than those who did not (range of mean, 5.1-7.8 vs 1.5-2.2 respectively). Clinicians were more likely to recommend a change of prescription after seeing the full patient profile than after the simulated discussion (increase in prescription change, range: 12.3-30.2%), indicating that clinicians rely on patients speaking up proactively about any concerns.

Conclusions: Insufficient existing counselling practices result in missed opportunities for shared decision-making and discussion. Clinicians and contraceptive counselling services should empower women by introducing more in-depth contraceptive counselling, incorporating clear, open-ended questions, to improve patient adherence and enhance reproductive planning.

Keywords: Contraception; Europe; counselling; decision-making; unmet needs.