Navigating possible endometriosis in primary care: A qualitative study of GP perspectives
Dixon S., McNiven A., Talbot A., Hinton L.
Background Endometriosis affects approximately 6-10% of women, with well documented delays between initial presentation with symptoms and diagnosis. In England, women typically seek help first in primary care, making this setting pivotal in women's pathways to diagnosis and treatment. English GP perspectives on managing possible endometriosis have not been previously reported. Aim To explore what GPs identify as important considerations when caring for women with symptoms that raise the possibility of endometriosis. Design and setting Qualitative study in English primary care. Method Semi-structured scenario-based telephone interviews with 42 GPs from April 2019 to January 2020, based around a fictional scenario of a woman presenting to primary care with symptoms suggesting possible endometriosis. Interviews were thematically coded and analysed. Results Managing possible endometriosis in primary care brings challenges. While knowledge and awareness were prerequisites for considering endometriosis, other important considerations were raised. Symptoms suggestive of endometriosis are non-specific, making endometriosis one possible consideration of many. GPs move through a diagnostic hierarchy to exclude sinister causes and utilise trials of treatment as both therapeutic interventions and diagnostic tools; processes which take time. An endometriosis label or diagnosis has advantages and risks. GPs reported sharing decisions about investigation and referral while holding women's priorities as pivotal. These conversations were underpinned by their knowledge of uncertainties and unknowns, including the wide spectrum and unpredictability of endometriosis. Conclusion GPs considerations are more complex than simply lacking awareness. The unknowns surrounding endometriosis matter to GPs. Further research and tailored resources for primary care, where women present with undifferentiated symptoms, are needed.