Development of an eHealth programme for self-management of persistent physical symptoms: a qualitative study on user needs in general practice

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Background: Persistent physical symptoms (PPS) are estimated to be present in 17% of patients in general practice. Hence, general practitioners (GPs) play a key role in both the diagnostic assessment and the management of PPS. However, research indicates a need to improve their strategies to support self-help in patients, and eHealth tools may serve as an opportunity. This study aimed to explore patients’ and GPs’ needs related to self-management of PPS. The study was designed to inform the future development of eHealth interventions in this field. Methods: This qualitative study was based on 20 semi-structured interviews (6 GPs and 14 patients with PPS). Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim and analysed through a five-step thematic analysis approach. First, we conducted an inductive analysis to identify and explore emerging subthemes. Second, using a deductive mapping strategy, we categorised the derived subthemes according to the COM-B behaviour change model and its three domains: capability, opportunity and motivation. Results: We identified eleven subthemes in the patient interviews and seven subthemes in the GP interviews. Several unmet needs emerged. First, we identified a need to consider PPS early in the illness trajectory by taking a bio-psycho-social approach. Second, both patients and GPs need better skills to manage uncertainty. Third, hope is important for the patients. Fourth, patients need guidance from their GP in how to self-manage their PPS. Conclusions: This study provides important insight into key issues and needs related to capability, opportunity and motivation that should be addressed in the design of future eHealth self-management interventions targeting patients with PPS in general practice in order to support and improve care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalBMC Family Practice
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

    Research areas

  • Behaviour change wheel, eHealth, General practice, Medically unexplained symptoms, Persistent physical symptoms, Self-management

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