The aims of the present study were threefold: firstly, to further the understanding of the psychological response to heart disease; secondly, to consider the differences in the ways in which doctors and patients perceive heart disease; and thirdly, to consider how the doctor, patient, and condition interact within the illness process over a period of time.
The nature of coronary heart disease (CHD) was considered, and the influence of psychological variables in CHD was discussed. Psychological factors in illness were examined, with particular emphasis on health beliefs, illness behaviour, compliance, and the doctor-patient relationship. Conclusions were drawn that to understand the illness process in heart disease, doctor, patient, and condition must be considered together, in an interactional framework.
Two pilot studies were performed. The first study found that heart patients’ health beliefs differed from a normal population. The second pilot study, with raised cholesterol patients, suggested the existence of five major components of the illness process: illness perception, illness effect, health orientation, doctor-patient relationship, and compliance.
The main study considered groups of heart and cholesterol patients (experimental groups) and a group of general outpatients (control group), over a four-to-six month period. Patients were interviewed and given a questionnaire concerning their feelings regarding their condition. Doctors and judges also completed similar questionnaires.
Results indicate that cholesterol patients rate superior coping to the other groups, and both experimental groups were higher than controls with regard to patient understanding, responsibility for health, and communication with doctor. Findings suggests alterations should be made in current conceptualization of illness behaviour. and that patient and doctor assessment of condition severity were found to be unrelated to illness behaviour. Doctor and patient perception of patient behaviour were found to be discrepant.
Modifications in the treatment of heart and cholesterol patients are suggested.