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Research suggests that there are a number of factors which can be associated with delay in a patient seeking professional help following chest pain, including demographic and social factors. These factors may have an adverse impact on the efficacy of interventions which to date have had limited success in improving patient action times. Theory-based methods of review are becoming increasingly recognised as important additions to conventional systematic review methods. They can be useful to gain additional insights into the characteristics of effective interventions by uncovering complex underlying mechanisms.
This paper describes the further analysis of research papers identified in a conventional systematic review of published evidence. The aim of this work was to investigate the theoretical frameworks underpinning studies exploring the issue of why people having a heart attack delay seeking professional medical help. The study used standard review methods to identify papers meeting the inclusion criterion, and carried out a synthesis of data relating to theoretical underpinnings.
Thirty six papers from the 53 in the original systematic review referred to a particular theoretical perspective, or contained data which related to theoretical assumptions. The most frequently mentioned theory was the self-regulatory model of illness behaviour. Papers reported the potential significance of aspects of this model including different coping mechanisms, strategies of denial and varying models of treatment seeking. Studies also drew attention to the potential role of belief systems, applied elements of attachment theory, and referred to models of maintaining integrity, ways of knowing, and the influence of gender.
The review highlights the need to examine an individual’s subjective experience of and response to health threats, and confirms the gap between knowledge and changed behaviour. Interventions face key challenges if they are to influence patient perceptions regarding seriousness of symptoms; varying processes of coping; and obstacles created by patient perceptions of their role and responsibilities. A theoretical approach to review of these papers provides additional insight into the assumptions underpinning interventions, and illuminates factors which may impact on their efficacy. The method thus offers a useful supplement to conventional systematic review methods.
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