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01.12.2016 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2016 Open Access

BMC Family Practice 1/2016

The relationship between GPs and hospital consultants and the implications for patient care: a qualitative study

BMC Family Practice > Ausgabe 1/2016
Rod Sampson, Rosaline Barbour, Philip Wilson
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​s12875-016-0442-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

RS conceived and designed the study, acquired and analysed the data, and drafted the manuscript. RB participated in the design and analysis of the data, and revised it critically for important intellectual content. PW participated in the design and analysis of the data, and revised it critically for important intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Improving the quality of care of at the medical primary-secondary care interface is both a national and a wider concern. In a qualitative exploration of clinicians’ relationship at the interface, we want to study how both GPs and hospital specialists regard and behave towards each other and how this may influence patient care.


A qualitative interview study was carried out in primary and secondary care centres in NHS Highland health board area, Scotland. Eligible clinicians (general practitioners and hospital specialists) were invited to take part in a semi-structured interview to explore the implications of interface relationships upon patient care. A standard thematic analysis was used, involving an iterative process based on grounded theory.


Key themes that emerged for clinicians included communication (the importance of accessing and listening to one another, and the transfer of soft intelligence), conduct (referring to perceived inappropriate transfer of workload at the interface, and resistance to this transfer), relationships (between interface clinicians and between clinicians and their patients), and unrealistic expectations (clinicians expressing idealistic hopes of what their colleagues at the other interface could achieve).


The relationship between primary and secondary care clinicians, and, in particular, difficulties and misunderstandings can have an influence upon patient care. Addressing key areas identified in the study may help to improve interface relationships and benefit patient care.
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