Patients’ and physicians’ experiences of atrial fibrillation and anticoagulation therapy
: a qualitative journey

  • Christian Borg Xuereb

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Background: Oral anticoagulation (OAC) reduces stroke risk in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) however it is often underutilized and sometimes refused by patients. This programme of work included a meta-synthesis and two inter-linking studies aiming to explore patients’ and physicians’ experiences of AF and OAC.
Methods: A meta-synthesis of qualitative evidence was conducted which informed the empirical work. Semi-structured individual interviews were utilised. Study 1: Three AF patient sub-groups were interviewed; accepted (n=4), refused (n=4), or discontinued (n=3) warfarin. Study 2: Four physician sub-groups (n=4 each group) prescribing OAC to AF patients were interviewed: consultant cardiologists, consultant general physicians, general practitioners and cardiology registrars. Data was analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.
Results: Study 1: Three over-arching themes comprised patients’ experiences: (1) the initial consultation, (2) life after the consultation, and (3) patients’ reflections. Patients commented on the relief and reassurance experienced during the consultation but they perceived the decision making process mostly led by the physician. Lack of education and take-home materials distributed during the initial consultation was highlighted. Patients who had experienced stroke themselves or were caregivers, were more receptive to education aimed towards stroke risk reduction rather than bleeding risk. Warfarin monitoring was challenging for patients, however some patients perceived it as beneficial as it served to enhance patient-physician relationship.
Study 2: Two over-arching themes emerged from physicians’ experiences: (1) communicating information and (2) challenges with OAC prescription for AF. Physicians’ approach to the consultation style shifted through a continuum of
compliance-adherence-concordance during the consultation. They aimed for concordance, however challenges such as time and the perceived patient trust in them as the expert, led to physicians adopting a paternalistic approach. Physicians also pointed out challenges associated with guideline adherence and the need to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach, where other health professionals could provide on-going education.
Conclusion: This programme of work has illustrated the benefit of taking an in depth phenomenological approach to understanding the lived experience of the physician-patient consultation. Together with the meta-synthesis, this work has strengthened the evidence base and demonstrated that there is a need to target patients' and physicians' ability to communicate with each other in a comprehensible way.
Date of Award4 Feb 2014
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRachel Shaw (Supervisor)


  • patients' and physicians experiences
  • interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • meta-synthesis
  • atrial fibrillation
  • oral anticoagulation therapy

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