‘Frailty as an adjective rather than a diagnosis’—identification of frailty in primary care: a qualitative interview study
Seeley A., Glogowska M., Hayward G.
Introduction: In 2017, NHS England introduced proactive identification of frailty into the General Practitioners (GP) contract. There is currently little information as to how this policy has been operationalised by front-line clinicians, their working understanding of frailty and impact of recognition on patient care. We aimed to explore the conceptualisation and identification of frailty by multidisciplinary primary care clinicians in England. Methods: Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with primary care staff across England including GPs, physician associates, nurse practitioners, paramedics and pharmacists. Thematic analysis was facilitated through NVivo (Version 12). Results: Totally, 31 clinicians participated. Frailty was seen as difficult to define, with uncertainty about its value as a medical diagnosis. Clinicians conceptualised frailty differently, dependant on job-role, experience and training. Identification of frailty was most commonly informal and opportunistic, through pattern recognition of a frailty phenotype. Some practices had embedded population screening and structured reviews. Visual assessment and continuity of care were important factors in recognition. Most clinicians were familiar with the electronic frailty index, but described poor accuracy and uncertainty as to how to interpret and use this tool. There were different perspectives amongst professional groups as to whether frailty should be more routinely identified, with concerns of capacity and feasibility in the current climate of primary care workload. Conclusions: Concepts of frailty in primary care differ. Identification is predominantly ad hoc and opportunistic. A more cohesive approach to frailty, relevant to primary care, together with better diagnostic tools and resource allocation, may encourage wider recognition.