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Open Access Research article

Does the attention General Practitioners pay to their patients' mental health problems add to their workload? A cross sectional national survey

Else M Zantinge1*, Peter FM Verhaak1, Dinny H de Bakker1, Klaas van der Meer2 and Jozien M Bensing1

Author Affiliations

1 NIVEL, Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research, P.O. Box 1568, 3500 BN Utrecht, The Netherlands

2 Department of General Practice, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 196, 9700 AD Groningen, The Netherlands

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BMC Family Practice 2006, 7:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-7-71

Published: 5 December 2006

Abstract

Background

The extra workload induced by patients with mental health problems may sometimes cause GPs to be reluctant to become involved in mental health care. It is known that dealing with patients' mental health problems is more time consuming in specific situations such as in consultations. But it is unclear if GPs who are more often involved in patients' mental health problems, have a higher workload than other GPs. Therefore we investigated the following: Is the attention GPs pay to their patients' mental health problems related to their subjective and objective workload?

Methods

Secondary analyses were made using data from the Second Dutch National Survey of General Practice, a cross sectional study conducted in the Netherlands in 2000–2002. A nationally representative selection of 195 GPs from 104 general practices participated in this National Survey. Data from: 1) a GP questionnaire; 2) a detailed log of the GP's time use during a week and; 3) an electronic medical registration system, including all patients' contacts during a year, were used. Multiple regression analyses were conducted with the GP's workload as an outcome measure, and the GP's attention for mental health problems as a predictor. GP, patient, and practice characteristics were included in analyses as potential confounders.

Results

Results show that GPs with a broader perception of their role towards mental health care do not have more working hours or patient contacts than GPs with a more limited perception of their role. Neither are they more exhausted or dissatisfied with the available time. Also the number of patient contacts in which a psychological or social diagnosis is made is not related to the GP's objective or subjective workload.

Conclusion

The GP's attention for a patient's mental health problems is not related to their workload. The GP's extra workload when dealing in a consultation with patients' mental health problems, as is demonstrated in earlier research, is not automatically translated into a higher overall workload. This study does not confirm GPs' complaints that mental health care is one of the components of their job that consumes a lot of their time and energy. Several explanations for these results are discussed.