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Keywords:

  • aggression;
  • family practice;
  • qualitative research;
  • risk assessment;
  • violence

Abstract

Rationale, aims and objectives  Clinicians’ means of stratification of risk of violence has been previously studied in health settings, but not in general practice. This study aimed to investigate the means by which general practitioners (GPs) assess risk of violence in their clinical practice.

Method  A qualitative design using focus group interviews and written responses on a subsequent questionnaire. Focus group discussions were audiotaped and transcribed. Questionnaires were sent to all members of three Divisions of General Practice offering the opportunity for respondents to make qualitative comments. The focus group transcripts and qualitative questionnaire responses were coded independently by members of the research team and subjected to thematic analysis. The setting was three Urban Divisions of General Practice in New South Wales, Australia. Participants were one hundred and seventy-two urban GPs – 18 participants in four focus groups and 154 GPs providing written responses.

Results  Assessment and stratification of risk by GPs conformed to a schema based on the physical environment of the consultation, individual characteristics of the patient, individual characteristics of the doctor, and characteristics of the doctor–patient relationship. Despite this, risk assessment and risk stratification were often on the basis of ad hoc, subjective decision making. An aspect of the ad hoc nature of risk assessment was the pre-eminence afforded ‘instinct’ or ‘intuition’ in subjects’ responses.

Conclusion  A schema of factors involved in GPs’ assessment of risk of violence is presented. An appreciation of these will be of clinical and policy importance.