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Studying Help-Seeking for Symptoms: The Challenges of Methods and Models

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Abstract

Although the detection and experience of symptoms often stimulates an appropriate decision as to whether to visit to a healthcare professional (HCP), there are many occasions when it does not. Sometimes, people seek help for minor, transient conditions which would have resolved without the attention of a HCP, whereas at other times help is not sought for signs of life-threatening disease. Help-seeking behaviour concerns not only the decision of whether to seek help or not, but also the timing of that decision. The timing of consultations with HCPs has implications for our health, quality of life, treatment options and for the cost of healthcare services. This article discusses research and theory on help-seeking behaviour, with attention to the challenges of methods and models used in this area of research. One particular model, the ‘General Model of Total Patient Delay’, is outlined and critiqued to demonstrate the complex processes involved and highlight areas in need of further research and development.

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