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‘Timely’ diagnosis of dementia: what does it mean? A narrative analysis of GPs’ accounts
  1. Saadia Aziz Dhedhi,
  2. Deborah Swinglehurst,
  3. Jill Russell
  1. Centre for Primary Care and Public Health, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Miss Saadia Aziz Dhedhi; ha09131{at}


Objective To explore general practitioners’ (GP) perspectives on the meaning of ‘timeliness’ in dementia diagnosis.

Design Narrative interview study.

Setting UK academic department of primary care.

Participants Seven practising GPs with experience of conveying a diagnosis of dementia.

Methods GPs’ narrative commentaries of encounters with patients with suspected dementia were audio-recorded and transcribed resulting in 51 pages of text (26 757words). A detailed narrative analysis of doctors’ accounts was conducted.

Results Diagnosis of dementia is a complex medical and social practice. Clinicians attend to multiple competing priorities while providing individually tailored patient care, against a background of shifting political and institutional concerns. Interviewees drew on a range of explanations about the nature of generalism to legitimise their claims about whether and how they made a diagnosis, constructing their accounts of what constituted ‘timeliness’. Three interlinked analytical themes were identified: (1) diagnosis as a collective, cumulative, contingent process; (2) taking care to ensure that diagnosis—if reached at all—is opportune; (3) diagnosis of dementia as constitutive or consequential, but also a diagnosis whose consequences are unpredictable.

Conclusions Timeliness in the diagnosis of dementia involves balancing a range of judgements and is not experienced in terms of simple chronological notions of time. Reluctance or failure to make a diagnosis on a particular occasion does not necessarily point to GPs’ lack of awareness of current policies, or to a set of training needs, but commonly reflects this range of nuanced balancing judgements, often negotiated with patients and their families with detailed attention to a particular context. In the case of dementia, the taken-for-granted benefits of early diagnosis cannot be assumed, but need to be ‘worked through’ on an individual case-by-case basis. GPs tend to value ‘rightness’ of time over concerns about ‘early’ diagnosis.

  • Primary Care
  • Qualitative Research

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