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Understanding “revolving door” patients in general practice: a qualitative study

Andrea E Williamson1*, Kenneth Mullen2 and Philip Wilson3

Author Affiliations

1 General Practice and Primary Care, School of Medicine, College of MVLS, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland

2 School of Medicine, College of MVLS, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland

3 Centre for Rural Health, University of Aberdeen, Inverness, Scotland

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BMC Family Practice 2014, 15:33  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-15-33

Published: 13 February 2014



‘Revolving door’ patients in general practice are repeatedly removed from general practitioners’ (GP) lists. This paper reports a qualitative portion of the first mixed methods study of these marginalised patients.


We conducted qualitative semi-structured interviews with six practitioner services staff and six GPs in Scotland, utilizing Charmazian grounded theory to characterise ‘revolving door’ patients and their impact from professionals’ perspectives.


‘Revolving door’ patients were reported as having three necessary characteristics; they had unreasonable expectations, exhibited inappropriate behaviours and had unmet health needs. A range of boundary breaches were reported too when ‘revolving door’ patients interacted with NHS staff.


We utilise the ‘sensitising concepts’ of legitimacy by drawing on literature about ‘good and bad’ patients and ‘dirty work designations.’ We relate these to the core work of general practice and explore the role that medical and moral schemas have in how health service professionals understand and work with ‘revolving door’ patients. We suggest this may have wider relevance for the problem doctor patient relationship literature.