Setting goals with patients living with multimorbidity: qualitative analysis of general practice consultations

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Background Establishing patient goals is widely recommended as a way to deliver care that matters to the individual patient with multimorbidity, who may not be well served by single-disease guidelines. Though multimorbidity is now normal in general practice, little is known about how doctors and patients should set goals together. Aim To determine the key components of the goal-setting process in general practice. Design and setting In-depth qualitative analysis of goal-setting consultations in three UK general practices, as part of a larger feasibility trial. Focus groups with participating GPs and patients. The study took place between November 2016 and July 2018. Method Activity analysis was applied to 10 hours of video-recorded doctor-patient interactions to explore key themes relating to how goal setting was attempted and achieved. Core challenges were identified and focus groups were analysed using thematic analysis. Results A total of 22 patients and five GPs participated. Four main themes emerged around the goal-setting process: patient preparedness and engagement; eliciting and legitimising goals; collaborative action planning; and GP engagement. GPs were unanimously positive about their experience of goal setting and viewed it as a collaborative process. Patients liked having time to talk about what was most important to them. Challenges included eliciting goals from unprepared patients, and GPs taking control of the goal rather than working through it with the patient. Conclusion Goal setting required time and energy from both parties. GPs had an important role in listening and bearing witness to their patients' goals. Goal setting worked best when both GP and patient were prepared in advance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e479-e488
Number of pages10
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number684
Early online date3 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Goal-setting
  • doctor-patient communication
  • multimorbidity
  • patient-centred care

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