Objective To investigate patients' agendas before consultation and to assess which aspects of agendas are voiced in the consultation and the effects; of unvoiced agendas on outcomes.
Design Qualitative study.
Setting 20 general practices in south east England and the West Midlands.
Participants 35 patients consulting 20 general practitioners in appointment and emergency surgeries.
Results Patients' agendas are complex and multifarious. Only four of 35 patients voiced all their agendas in consultation. Agenda items most commonly voiced were symptoms and requests for diagnoses and prescriptions. The most common unvoiced agenda items were: worries about possible diagnosis and what die future holds; patients' ideas about what is wrong; side effects; not wanting a prescription; and information relating to social contest. Agenda items that were not raised in the consultation often led to specific problem outcomes (for example, major misunderstandings), unwanted prescriptions, non-use of prescriptions, and non-adherence to treatment. In all of the 14 consultations with problem outcomes at least one of the problems was related to an unvoiced agenda item.
Conclusion Patients have many needs and when these are not voiced they can not be addressed. Some of the poor outcomes in the case studies were related to unvoiced agenda items. This suggests that when patients and their needs are more fully articulated in the consultation better health care may be effected. Steps should be taken in both daily clinical practice and research to encourage the voicing of patients' agendas.