How do general practitioners use 'safety netting' in acutely ill children?

Karen Bertheloot, Pieterjan Deraeve, Mieke Vermandere, Bert Aertgeerts, Marieke Lemiengre, An De Sutter, Frank Buntinx, Jan Y. Verbakel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: 'Safety netting' advice allows general practitioners (GPs) to cope with diagnostic uncertainty in primary care. It informs patients on 'red flag' features and when and how to seek further help. There is, however, insufficient evidence to support useful choices regarding 'safety netting' procedures. Objectives: To explore how GPs apply 'safety netting' in acutely ill children in Flanders. Methods: We designed a qualitative study consisting of semi-structured interviews with 37 GPs across Flanders. Two researchers performed qualitative analysis based on grounded theory components. Results: Although unfamiliar with the term, GPs perform 'safety netting' in every acutely ill child, guided by their intuition without the use of specific guidelines. They communicate 'red flag' features, expected time course of illness and how and when to re-consult and try to tailor their advice to the context, patient and specific illness. Overall, GPs perceive 'safety netting' as an important element of the consultation, acknowledging personal and parental limitations, such as parents' interpretation of their advice. GPs do not feel a need for any form of support in the near future. Conclusion: GPs apply 'safety netting' intuitively and tailor the content. Further research should focus on the impact of 'safety netting' on morbidity and how the advice is conveyed to parents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-8
JournalEuropean Journal of General Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016


  • acute illness
  • general practitioner
  • children
  • qualitative research
  • 'Safety netting'

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