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Research reveals people with multiple long-term health problems need good access to GPs

A study carried out in Dorset by researchers from Southampton has shown that people with multiple long-term illness can struggle to keep up with all the demands of their care.

The research surveyed 300 people from six GP practices in Dorset over a 2-and-a-half-year period to assess ‘treatment burden’. Treatment burden is the name given to the workload of being a patient and its impact on health and wellbeing. Treatment burden got worse over this time period for almost a third of the patients that took part in this survey. Those whose treatment burden was most likely to get worse were those living more than 10 minutes from their surgery and those with more than five long-term conditions.

The conclusion of the study suggests that treatment burden can change over time and access to the GP is a key factor, as well as the number of conditions people have. Another important factor was patients’ understanding of their health conditions, suggesting that more could be done to help patients manage the complexities of juggling multiple health problems.

Dr Simon Fraser

Dr Simon Fraser is from School of Primary Care, Population Sciences & Medical Education, University of Southampton and is supported by NIHR ARC Wessex.

“Previously little was known about this issue, particularly how the workload of having multiple health problems changes over time. Taking and managing multiple medications, organising healthcare appointments, monitoring health, self-care, and modifying lifestyle all contribute to this workload. This workload may be high for people with multiple long-term conditions, potentially outweighing their capacity to manage their health.

This work gives an idea of how important it is to make access to GP surgeries easier for people with multiple long-term conditions. It’s one of the clearest indicators yet that caring for people with a complex set of illnesses needs careful consideration and those services need to fit around the patient.”

The research study is published in the British Journal of General Practice - Change in treatment burden among people with multimorbidity: a follow-up survey