Background. General practitioners are increasingly involved in the care of patients with long-term psychiatric disorders. We have previously reported that general practitioners are less willing to treat patients with schizophrenia than those without such a diagnosis, but this may have been attributable to a reluctance to treat patients with any psychiatric or chronic illness. We, therefore, examined general practitioners' attitudes to patients with chronic psychiatric or medical illnesses.
Methods. A random sample of 260 local general practitioners were each sent one of our case vignettes which were identical apart from mention of a previous diagnosis of schizophrenia, depression, diabetes or no illness. The general practitioners were asked to indicate their level of agreement with 13 attitudinal statements based on the vignette.
Results. One hundred and sixty-six (66%) of the general practitioners responded to the case vignettes. Those responding to the vignette about the patient with schizophrenia were less happy to have that patient on their practice list and were more concerned about the risk of violence and the child's welfare. Those responding to the depression vignette were more likely to offer the patient antidepressants or counselling; and those who replied to the diabetes case were most likely to refer the patient to a hospital specialist. These differences were not attributable to the personal or practice characteristics of the general practitioners.
Conclusions. Patients with schizophrenia arouse concerns in general practitioners that are not simply due to those patients suffering from a psychiatric or chronic illness. Our results suggest that some patients with schizophrenia may find it difficult to register with a general practitioner and receive the integrated community-based health care service they require. Psychiatrists should provide education and support to general practitioners who look after patients with schizophrenia.
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