Socioeconomic differences in help seeking for colorectal cancer symptoms during COVID-19 a UK-wide qualitative interview study of patient experiences in primary care

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22 May 2022

Published journal: Royal College of General Practitioners

Abstract

Background 

COVID-19 has led to rapid changes in healthcare delivery, raising concern that these changes may exacerbate existing inequalities in patient outcomes.

Aim 

To understand how patients’ help-seeking experiences in primary care for colorectal cancer symptoms during COVID-19 were affected by their socioeconomic status (SES).

Design and setting 

Qualitative semi-structured interviews with males and females across the UK, recruited using purposive sampling by SES.

Method

Interviews were carried out with 39 participants (20 higher SES; 19 lower SES) who contacted primary care about possible symptoms of colorectal cancer during COVID-19. Data were analysed using framework analysis followed by comparative thematic analysis to explore differences between groups.

Results 

Three themes were identified with differences between SES groups: 1) how people decided to seek medical help through appraisal of symptoms; 2) how people navigated services; and 3) impact of COVID-19 on how patients interacted with healthcare professionals. The lower SES group expressed uncertainty appraising symptoms and navigating services (in terms of new processes resulting from COVID-19 and worries about infection). There was also potential for increased disparity in diagnosis and management, with other methods of getting in touch (for example, email or 111) taken up more readily by higher SES patients.

Conclusion 

The findings suggest that COVID-19 exacerbated disparities between higher and lower SES participants. This study raises awareness around challenges in help seeking in the context of the pandemic, which are likely to persist (post-COVID-19) as healthcare systems settle on new models of care (for example, digital). Recommendations are provided to reduce inequalities of care.

Citation

Athena Ip, Georgia Black & Cecilia Vindrola-Padros et al, 2021, 'Socioeconomic differences in help seeking for colorectal cancer symptoms during COVID-19: a UK-wide qualitative interview study of patient experiences in primary care', British Journal of General Practice 30 May 2022; BJG,0644

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