BACKGROUND: Prostate cancer screening (PCS) is controversial. Ideally, patients should understand the risks and benefits of screening before undergoing PSA testing. This study assessed whether primary care physicians routinely discuss PCS and explored the barriers to and facilitators of these discussions. METHODS: Qualitative pilot study involving in-depth, semistructured interviews with 18 purposively sampled, academic and community-based primary care physicians. Barriers and facilitators of PCS discussions were ascertained using both interviews and chart-stimulated recall--a technique utilizing patient charts to probe recall and provide context to physician decision-making during clinic encounters. Analysis was performed using consensus conferences based on grounded theory techniques. RESULTS: All 18 participating physicians reported that they generally discussed PCS with patients, though 6 reported sometimes ordering PSA tests without discussion. A PCS discussion occurred in only 16 (36%) of the 44 patient-physician encounters when patients were due for PCS that also met criteria for chart-stimulated recall. Barriers to PCS discussion were patient comorbidity, limited education/health literacy, prior refusal of care, physician forgetfulness, acute-care visits, and lack of time. Facilitators of PCS discussion included patient-requested screening, highly educated patients, family history of prostate cancer, African-American race, visits for routine physicals, review of previous PSA results, extra time during encounters, and reminder systems. CONCLUSIONS: PCS discussions sometimes do not occur. Important barriers to discussion are inadequate time for health maintenance, physician forgetfulness, and patient characteristics. Future research should explore using educational and decision support interventions to involve more patients in PCS decisions.
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