Objectives: To determine the extent to which general practitioners are currently active in the screening, assessment, diagnosis and management of eating disorders. To identify current deficits in service delivery for eating disordered patients, as identified by general practitioners.
Method: A postal questionnaire was circulated to 360 general practitioners within the greater Dublin area and North Eastern Health Service Executive.
Results: Response rate was 25%. Respondents had lower case-loads of eating disordered patients than would be expected given the epidemiology of anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Most do not routinely screen for eating disorders, even in at-risk populations and are unaware of the current evidence-based data for guidance. GPs do not feel confident at managing eating disorders within the primary care setting and see their chief role as that of referral to psychiatric services. Treatment outcomes are typically poor. Concern was expressed at the lack of access to specialist treatment in the public sector. Specific deficits in service provision were highlighted including delays in assessment, lack of services appropriate to the adolescent population, poor service transition, and poor availability of psychotherapy at primary care level.
Conclusions: Eating disorders are currently underdiagnosed in the primary care setting. Use of simple screening tools might aid detection of pathological eating patterns, particularly in at-risk groups. General practitioners feel under-equipped to manage these complex disorders, given that the resources required to provide high quality care are not widely available. Better integration of primary and secondary services, coupled with training for GPs in the area of screening, assessment and diagnosis, may lead to earlier intervention and improved outcomes.