Use of guidelines in primary care--practitioners' perspectives

Fam Pract. 1998 Apr;15(2):105-11. doi: 10.1093/fampra/15.2.105.


Background and objectives: Concern about the inadequate take-up of guidelines in general practice has concentrated on problems arising from the process of their development and implementation. However, these perspectives fail to take account of the needs, attitudes and problems of GPs themselves. In this study we aimed to identify barriers to the use of guidelines and opportunities for tackling them, from the point of view of the GP, so that future guideline development and policy could be more sensitive to the needs of GPs in the environment in which they work.

Method: Twenty in-depth semi-structured interviews were audiotaped with GPs from within the Avon Health Authority area, representing GPs with different backgrounds and working environments. The transcribed data collected were analysed using a grounded theory approach.

Results: Utilization of guideline information is complex. GPs' appraisals of the value of guidelines interact with prior knowledge and beliefs, practicalities of existing information storage and retrieval systems, and individual working practices. Conditions where guidelines are most likely to be referred to may be those either very rarely or very commonly presenting in general practice. Key issues for the uptake of guidelines in the consultation are: general preference for certain formats of presentation; reputability and ownership; use of guidelines in shared decision-making; scope for computer-based systems; and GPs' attitudes to time pressures on information-seeking in relation to tolerance of uncertainty.

Conclusion: Local initiatives might usefully explore the possibilities of supporting development of guideline-retrieval systems customized for individual GPs or practices. Novel means of stimulating 'ownership' and demonstrating reputability should be sought. The analysis provides a framework for understanding the complexities of the processes of GPs' use of guidelines in practice which can be useful in explaining the results of trials of guideline effectiveness. Guideline implementation occurs in the context of conflicting pressures for clinical autonomy and professional standardization and quality improvement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Computers
  • Databases as Topic
  • Guideline Adherence*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Primary Health Care