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Open Access Research article

How do general practitioners experience providing care to refugees with mental health problems? A qualitative study from Denmark

Natasja Koitzsch Jensen1*, Marie Norredam1, Stefan Priebe2 and Allan Krasnik1

Author affiliations

1 The Danish Research Centre for Migration, Ethnicity and Health, Section for Health Services Research, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1014, Copenhagen, Denmark

2 Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry, Queen Mary University of London, Newham Centre for Mental Health, London, E13 8SP, United Kingdom

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Citation and License

BMC Family Practice 2013, 14:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-14-17

Published: 28 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Refugees are a particularly vulnerable group in relation to the development of mental illness and many may have been subjected to torture or other traumatic experiences. General practitioners are gatekeepers for access to several parts of the psychiatric system and knowledge of their patients’ refugee background is crucial to secure adequate care. The aim of this study is to investigate how general practitioners experience providing care to refugees with mental health problems.

Methods

The study was conducted as part of an EU project on European Best Practices in Access, Quality and Appropriateness of Health Services for Immigrants in Europe (EUGATE). Semi-structured interviews were carried out with nine general practitioners in the vicinity of Copenhagen purposively selected from areas with a high proportion of immigrants. The analysis of the interviews is inspired by qualitative content analysis.

Results

One of the main themes identified in the analysis is communication. This includes the use of professional interpreters and that communication entails more than sharing a common language. Quality of care is another theme that emerges and includes awareness of possible trauma history, limited possibilities for refugees to participate in certain treatments due to language barriers and feelings of hopelessness in the general practitioners. The general practitioners may also choose different referral pathways for refugees and they report that their patients lack understanding regarding the differences between psychological problems and physical symptoms.

Conclusion

General practitioners experience that providing care to refugees differs from providing care for patients from the majority population. The different strategies employed by the general practitioners in the health care treatment of refugees may be the result of the great diversity in the organisation of general practice in Denmark and the lack of a national strategy in the health care management of refugees. The findings from this study suggest that the development of conversational models for general practitioners including points to be aware of in the treatment of refugee patients may serve as a support in the management of refugee patients in primary care.

Keywords:
Primary care; Refugees; Migration; Trans-cultural psychiatry; Mental health; Categorisation