Assessing and addressing vulnerability in pregnancy: General practitioners perceived barriers and facilitators – a qualitative interview study

Brygger Venø, L., Pedersen, L.B., Søndergaard, J. et al. Assessing and addressing vulnerability in pregnancy: General practitioners perceived barriers and facilitators – a qualitative interview study. BMC Prim. Care 23, 142 (2022).



Vulnerability due to low psychosocial resources increases among women in the fertile age. Undetected vulnerability in pregnancy is a major contributor to inequality in maternal and perinatal health and constitutes a risk of maternal depression, adverse birth outcomes,—i.e. preterm birth, low birth weight, and adverse outcomes in childhood such as attachment disorders. General practitioners (GPs) have a broad understanding of indicators of vulnerability in pregnancy. However, less than 25% of pregnant women with severe vulnerability are identified in Danish general practice. The aim was to explore GPs’ perceived barriers and facilitators for assessing and addressing vulnerability among pregnant women.


A qualitative study with semi-structured focus group interviews with twenty GPs from urban and rural areas throughout the Region of Southern Denmark. A mixed inductive and deductive analytic strategy was applied, structured according to the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF).


Five themes emerged covering twelve TDF domains: (I)knowledge and attention, (II)professional confidence, (III)incentives, (IV)working conditions and (V)behavioral regulations. Prominent barriers to assessment were lack of continuity of care and trust in the doctor-patient relation. Other barriers were inattention to indicators of vulnerability, time limits, unavailable information on patients’ social support needs from cross-sectoral collaborators, and lack of reimbursement for the use of extra time. Fear of damaging the doctor-patient relation, ethical dilemmas and time limits were barriers to addressing vulnerability. Facilitators were increased attention on vulnerability, professionalism and a strong and trustful doctor-patient relation. Behavioral regulations ensuring continuity of care and extra time for history taking enabled assessing and addressing vulnerability, especially when a strong doctor-patient relation was absent.


The TDF disclosed several barriers, especially in the absence of a strong doctor-patient relation. A behavior change intervention of restructuring the organization of antenatal care in general practice might reduce the GPs’ barriers to assessing and addressing vulnerability in pregnancy. The findings may serve as a guide for commissioners and policymakers of antenatal care on the GPs’ support needs when providing antenatal care to vulnerable pregnant women.

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