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Doctors’ approaches to PSA testing and overdiagnosis in primary healthcare: a qualitative study
  1. Kristen Pickles1,
  2. Stacy M Carter1,
  3. Lucie Rychetnik1,2
  1. 1Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to K Pickles; kristen.pickles{at}


Objectives (1) To explain general practitioners’ (GPs’) approaches to prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing and overdiagnosis; (2) to explain how GPs reason about their PSA testing routines and (3) to explain how these routines influence GPs’ personal experience as clinicians.

Setting Primary care practices in Australia including men's health clinics and rural practices with variable access to urology services.

Participants 32 urban and rural GPs within Australia. We included GPs of varying ages, gender (11 female), clinical experience and patient populations. All GPs interested in participating in the study were included.

Primary and secondary outcome measure(s) Data were analysed using grounded theory methods to determine how and why GPs provide (or do not provide) PSA testing to their asymptomatic male patients.

Results We observed patterned variation in GP practice, and identified four heuristics to describe GP preference for, and approaches to, PSA testing and overdiagnosis: (1) GPs who prioritised avoiding underdiagnosis, (2) GPs who weighed underdiagnosis and overdiagnosis case by case, (3) GPs who prioritised avoiding overdiagnosis and (4) GPs who did not engage with overdiagnosis at all. The heuristics guided GPs’ Routine Practice (usual testing, communication and responses to patient request). The heuristics also reflected GPs’ different Practice Rationales (drawing on experience, medicolegal obligations, guidelines and evidence) and produced different Practice Outcomes (GPs’ experiences of the consequences of their PSA testing decisions). Some of these heuristics were more responsive to patient preferences than others.

Conclusions Variation in GPs’ PSA testing practices is strongly related to their approach to overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of prostate cancer. Men receive very different care depending on their GP's reasoning and practice preferences. Future policy to address overdiagnosis will be more likely to succeed if it responds to these patterned variations.


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