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Background: Access to testing during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was limited, impacting patients with COVID-19-like symptoms. Current qualitative studies have been limited to one country or were conducted outside Europe. Objectives: To explore - in eight European countries - the experiences of patients consulting in primary care with COVID-19-like symptoms during the first wave of the pandemic. Methods: Sixty-six semi-structured interviews, informed by a topic guide, were conducted by telephone or in person between April and July 2020. Patients with COVID-19-like symptoms were purposively recruited in primary care sites in eight countries and sampled based on age, gender, and symptom presentation. Deductive and inductive thematic analysis techniques were used to develop a framework representing data across settings. Data adequacy was attained by collecting rich data. Results: Seven themes were identified, which described the experiences of patients consulting. Two themes are reported in this manuscript describing the role of COVID-19 testing in this experience. Patients described significant distress due to their symptoms, especially those at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, and those with severe symptoms. Patients wanted access to testing to identify the cause of their illness and minimise the burden of managing uncertainty. Some patients testing positive for COVID-19 assumed they would be immune from future infection. Conclusion: Patients experiencing novel and severe symptoms, particularly those with comorbidities, experienced a significant emotional and psychological burden due to concerns about COVID-19. Testing provided reassurance over health status and helped patients identify which guidance to follow. Testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 led to some patients thinking they were immune from future infection, thus influencing subsequent behaviour.

Original publication




Journal article


European Journal of General Practice

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