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Improving GP communication in consultations on medically unexplained symptoms: a qualitative interview study with patients in primary care.

Houwen, J., Lucassen, P., Stappers, H.W., Assendelft, P.J.J., Dulmen, S. van, Olde Hartman, T.C. Improving GP communication in consultations on medically unexplained symptoms: a qualitative interview study with patients in primary care. British Journal of General Practice: 2017, 67(663), e716-e723
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Background
Many GPs find the care of patients with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) challenging. Patients themselves are often not satisfied with the care they receive.

Aim
To explore the problems patients with MUS experience in communication during consultations, with the aim of improving such consultations

Design and setting
A qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews.

Method
GP consultations were videorecorded and the GPs were asked immediately afterwards whether MUS were presented. Patients in these MUS consultations were asked to reflect on the consultation in a semi-structured interview while watching a recording of their own consultation.

Results
Of the 393 videorecorded consultations, 43 contained MUS. Patients who did identified six categories of problems:
First, they reported a mismatch between the GP’s and their own agenda.
Second, patients indicated that the GP evoked an uncomfortable feeling in them during the consultation.
Third, they found that GPs did not provide a specific management plan for their symptoms.
Fourth, patients indicated that the GP was not well prepared for the consultation.
Fifth, they perceived prejudices in the GP during the consultation.
Finally, one patient found that the GP did not acknowledge a limited understanding of the origin of the symptoms.

Conclusion
According to patients, GPs can improve their consultations on MUS by making genuine contact with their patients, by paying more attention to the patient’s agenda, and by avoiding evoking uncomfortable feelings and displaying prejudices. They should prepare their consultations and focus on the issues that matter to patients, for example, symptom management. GPs should be honest to patients when they do not understand the origin of symptoms. (aut. ref.)