Managing uncertainty: A qualitative study of GPs’ views on the diagnosis and immediate management of Transient Ischaemic Attack and the potential of a diagnostic tool.

Background: Most patients with transient ischaemic attack (TIA) present to their GP. Early identification and treatment reduces the risk of subsequent stroke and consequent disability and mortality. Objective: To explore GPs’ views on the diagnosis and immediate management of suspected TIA, and the potential utility of a diagnostic tool. Methods: This is a qualitative interview study based in Leicestershire, UK. A purposive sample of 10 GPs participated in 30-minute semi-structured telephone interviews. Data were analysed thematically. Results: GPs reported that TIA was more likely to be suspected when patients were more obvious candidates for TIA based on their history, characteristics and symptom presentation. Referrals were in part a strategy to manage risk under conditions of uncertainty and to seek reassurance. GPs valued using a TIA risk stratification tool but felt this did not inform their diagnostic decision making. A diagnostic tool for TIA in primary care was seen to have potential to improve the decision-making process about diagnosis and management and enhance confidence of GPs, particularly in ruling out TIAs. GPs saw benefits of using hard thresholds, but remained concerned about missing TIAs and saw a tool as an adjunct to clinical judgement. Conclusions: GPs weigh up the likelihood of TIA in the context of assessments of candidacy and diverse, often vague, symptoms. A diagnostic tool could support GPs in this process and help reduce reliance on referrals to TIA clinics for reassurance, provided the tool was designed to support decision making in cases of less ‘typical’ presentations.

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