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Open Access Research article

Pain, power and patience - A narrative study of general practitioners' relations with chronic pain patients

Mia Hemborg Kristiansson, Annika Brorsson, Caroline Wachtler and Margareta Troein*

Author Affiliations

Lund university, Department of Clinical Sciences, Malmö, Family Medicine, Malmö University Hospital, SE 205 02, Malmö, Sweden

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BMC Family Practice 2011, 12:31  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-12-31

Published: 15 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Chronic pain patients are common in general practice. In this study "chronic pain" is defined as diffuse musculoskeletal pain not due to inflammatory diseases or cancer. Effective patient-physician relations improve treatment results. The relationship between doctors and chronic pain patients is often dysfunctional. Consultation training for physicians and medical students can improve the professional ability to build effective relations, but this demands a thorough understanding of the problems in the relation. Several studies have defined the issues that frequently cause problems, but few have described the process. The aim of this study was to understand and illustrate what GPs' experience in contact with chronic pain patients and what works and does not work in these consultations.

Methods

Our theoretical perspective is constructivist, based upon the relativist view that individuals construct realities to understand and navigate the world. Five Swedish General Practitioners (GPs), two male and three female, were interviewed and asked to tell a story about a difficult encounter with a chronic pain patient. Tapes of the interviews were transcribed and analysed using narrative analysis. Three GPs told narratives suited for our analytic tools and these were included in the final results.

Results

Each narrative highlights a certain dilemma and a strategy. The dilemmas were: power game; good intentions that fail when a patient is persuaded against her own conviction; persuasion of the unwilling; transferred tiredness; distrust and dissociation from the patient. Professional strategies of listening, encouraging and teamwork were central to handling difficult situations.

Conclusions

The narratives show that GP's consultations with chronic pain patients sometimes are characterized by conflicts and difficult situations. They are facilitated by methods such as active listening and teamwork, but still may remain hard to handle. This has not before been studied among Swedish GPs. Narratives based on experience are known to be successful in education and this study suggest how narratives can serve as a training of consultation for medical students, but also in Continuing Professional Development groups for experienced doctors in practice.