What clinical challenges are associated with diagnosing and managing work-related mental health conditions? A qualitative study in general practice

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE: When providing care for patients with work-related mental health conditions (MHCs), the general practitioner's (GP) role includes clinical care, patient advocacy and assessment of a patient's ability to work. GPs can experience difficulty representing these competing roles. As clinical guidelines were being developed to assist GPs in providing this care, our aim was to identify the clinical challenges GPs experience when diagnosing and managing patients with work-related MHCs. DESIGN: Qualitative research. SETTING: This study was conducted in general practice and workers' compensation settings across Australia. PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-five GPs, seven psychiatrists and nine compensation scheme workers. GPs were eligible to participate if they were actively treating (or treated within the previous three years) patient(s) who had submitted a workers' compensation claim for a MHC. Psychiatrists and compensation scheme workers were eligible to participate if they were active in these roles, as they are best placed to identify additional clinical challenges GPs themselves did not raise. METHOD: Participants were invited by letter to participate in qualitative semi-structured telephone interviews. Prior to each interview, participants were asked to reflect on two case vignettes, each depicting a patient's illness trajectory over 12 months. Data were thematically analysed using inductive and deductive techniques and then categorised by stages of clinical reasoning. RESULTS: Participants reported clinical challenges across four key areas: (1) Diagnosis (identifying appropriate diagnostic tools, determining the severity and work-relatedness of a MHC, and managing the implications of labelling the patient with MHC). (2) Management (determining optimal treatment, recommending work participation). (3) Referral (ambiguity of communication pathways within compensation schemes). (4) Procedure (difficulties navigating compensation systems). CONCLUSION: We found that GPs experienced clinical challenges at all stages of care for people with work-related MHCs. We were also able to identify systemic and procedural issues that influence a GP's ability to provide care for patients with work-related MHCs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere037734
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Volume10
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2020

Keywords

  • mental health
  • occupational & industrial medicine
  • primary care
  • protocols & guidelines

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