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‘It is an indisputable fact that the best way to reduce death from cancer is early diagnosis’

Published: 5th December 2023

A study published in the BMJ Quality and Safety Journal offers guidance on safety incident prevention in primary care.

The multi-method qualitative study shares suggestions for staff, patient and system-level mitigations after results highlighted that while safety incidents are extremely rare in primary care missed or wrong diagnoses, serious harm and deaths have resulted from virtual GP consultations.

Takeaways from the study include:

  • Remote encounters in general practice are mostly occurring in a system designed for in-person encounters.
  • Verbal communication is mission critical: remote encounters depend on history taking and dialogue.
  • The remote environment may increase existing inequities.
  • Clinical assessment provides less information when a physical examination is not possible.

Mr J Merion Thomas, a Senior Surgeon, said: ‘It is an indisputable fact that the best way to reduce death from cancer is early diagnosis. Even the best radiotherapy and chemotherapy cannot regain the survival advantage lost from late diagnosis, more advanced disease and the inevitable deterioration in prognosis. Screening is important and the best example is the huge improvement in survival from cancer of the cervix’.

Dr Rebecca Leon, GP Partner and Primary Care Oncology Educator, said: ‘GPs are usually the first point of contact for patients with possible cancer symptoms. It is essential that GPs and primary care consider cancer as a differential diagnosis. Verbal communication is ‘mission critical’ as language plays a vital safety netting role. The importance of examination, considering the differential and safety netting cannot be underestimated’.

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