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How general practice patients with emotional problems presenting with somatic or psychological symptoms explain their improvement.

Cape, J; (2001) How general practice patients with emotional problems presenting with somatic or psychological symptoms explain their improvement. Br J Gen Pract , 51 (470) pp. 724-729.

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: The emotional problems of patients presenting only somatic symptoms are frequently not detected by general practitioners (GPs), yet clinical outcomes have often been found to be no different from emotional problems directly presented. AIM: To compare clinical outcomes and attributions for improvement of patients with emotional problems presenting only somatic symptoms to GPs, with patients directly presenting emotional problems. DESIGN OF STUDY: Survey of patients with General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) scores in the symptomatic range, with follow-up after three months of a repeat GHQ and a questionnaire of patients' attributions for improvement. SETTING: A sample of 152 adult patients from nine general practices in North and East London. METHOD: Consecutive patients were invited to complete an adapted GHQ prior to their consultation. The consultations were audiotaped and coded to indicate the extent to which psychological discussion took place, as against discussion of other issues. The GPs recorded whether they considered each patient to be emotionally disturbed or psychiatrically ill at the time of the consultation, to assess GP detection of emotional disturbance. To form the initial sample, interviews were conducted one to five days after the consultation with patients who intended to present with either psychological or somatic problems, with a follow-up questionnaire after three months. RESULTS: A total of 106 patients provided follow-up information, of whom 57 presented psychological problems directly at initial consultation and 49 presented only somatic symptoms. There were no differences in clinical outcome at three months between the two groups. Somatic presenters who improved were more likely than psychological presenters to attribute improvement to change in their physical health (68% versus 31%) while psychological presenters were more likely to attribute improvement to the GP's listening and counselling in the consultation (44% versus 18%). Other attributions for improvement, such as passage of time, change in life circumstances, support of family and friends, medication, and 'working through problems myself', were equally common in both groups. CONCLUSIONS: Patients with emotional problems presenting only somatic symptoms have equivalent clinical outcomes to patients presenting psychological problems directly, but are more likely to attribute emotional improvements to change in their physical health. For some such emotionally disturbed patients it may be sufficient for GPs to treat the physical health problems and to reassure the patient, without attempting to treat the underlying emotional disturbance.

Type: Article
Title: How general practice patients with emotional problems presenting with somatic or psychological symptoms explain their improvement.
Location: England
Keywords: Adolescent, Adult, Affective Symptoms, Aged, Attitude to Health, Family Practice, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Somatoform Disorders, Surveys and Questionnaires, Treatment Outcome
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1526867
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