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Qualitative study of interpretation of reassurance among patients attending rheumatology clinics: “just a touch of arthritis, doctor?”

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7234.541 (Published 26 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:541
  1. Jenny L Donovan, reader in social medicine (jenny.donovan{at}bris.ac.uk)a,
  2. David R Blake, professor of bone and joint medicineb
  1. a Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 2PR
  2. b Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Bath BA1 1RL
  1. Correspondence to: J L Donovan
  • Accepted 13 December 1999

Abstract

Objectives: To examine commonly used methods of reassurance by clinicians and explore their effect on patients.

Design: Qualitative study of tape recordings of in-depth, semistructured interviews with patients before and after consultation and of their consultations with doctors.

Setting: NHS specialist rheumatology clinics in two large British cities.

Participants: 35 patients selected by consultant rheumatologists from general practitioner referral letters (28 women, 7 men; 24 with inflammatory arthropathies, 11 other rheumatological complaints).

Main outcome measures: Patients' perceptions of reassurance.

Results: Reassurance was an important part of consultations, whether the diagnosis was clear or uncertain. Clinicians tried to reduce anxiety by emphasising the mildness, early stage, or non-seriousness of the disorder and the likelihood that patients would recover. Patients interpreted reassurance in the context of their own views and perceptions. Doctors' emphasis on the mildness or earliness of the condition raised the spectre of future pain and disability rather than providing reassurance. Patients who felt that their problems were properly acknowledged felt more reassured.

Conclusions: Typical patterns of reassurance were not successful because of the differences in perspective of patients and doctors. A key to successful reassurance seemed to be the doctor's ability to acknowledge patients' perspectives of their difficulties.

Footnotes

  • Funding Arthritis and Rheumatism Council.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Accepted 13 December 1999
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