Patients want as much info as their GP in post-consultation letters

Over half of surveyed patients want to see the letters sent to their general practitioner following hospital consultations. A study published today in the open access journal BMC Medicine shows that patients would prefer to receive the same information as their general practitioner (GP) following an outpatient consultation, rather than a letter written especially for them. However, letters written for GPs were found to be difficult to understand for patients and should be simplified or accompanied by a glossary to be useful to them.

Dr Nicola Roberts and Professor Martyn Partridge from Charing Cross Hospital in London, UK, asked 62 patients in their hospital to assess the letter they had been sent following a consultation at the hospital and compare it to the letter that was sent to their GP following the same consultation. The patients' GPs were also asked to assess and compare the letters.

The patients found the letters written for them easier to understand than the letters sent to their GPs letters to patients were shorter, written in a less formal style and contained fewer medical or technical terms. However, 36/62 patients said they would like to receive their GP's letter as well as their own letter if given the choice, because they would like to know exactly what their GP was being told. The patients also reported some inaccuracies in both types of letter. A majority of GPs (40/45) preferred the GP letters to the patient letters, because they were more structured and more detailed.

Roberts and Partridge suggest: "a compromise that would satisfy both the GP and patients is a structured letter to the GP copied to the patients but amended to meet patients needs using simpler language and accompanied by a glossary." They also recommend that the letter should be dictated in front of the patient, to avoid factual inaccuracies.

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Article:
How useful are post consultation letters to patients?
Nicola J Roberts and Martyn R Partridge
BMC Medicine, in press


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