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Br J Gen Pract. 2003 Dec; 53(497): 917–922.
PMCID: PMC1314743

Diagnosis of somatisation: effect of an educational intervention in a cluster randomised controlled trial.


BACKGROUND: Somatisation is highly prevalent in primary care (present in 25% of visiting patients) but often goes unrecognised. Non-recognition may lead to ineffective treatment, risk of iatrogenic harm, and excessive use of healthcare services. AIM: To examine the effect of training on diagnosis of somatisation in routine clinical practice by general practitioners (GPs). DESIGN OF STUDY: Cluster randomised controlled trial, with practices as the randomisation unit. SETTING: Twenty-seven general practices (with a total of 43 GPs) in Vejle County, Denmark. METHOD: Intervention consisted of a multifaceted training programme (the TERM [The Extended Reattribution and Management] model). Patients were enrolled consecutively over a period of 13 working days. Psychiatric morbidity was assessed by means of a screening questionnaire. GPs categorised their diagnoses in another questionnaire. The primary outcome was GP diagnosis of somatisation and agreement with the screening questionnaire. RESULTS: GPs diagnosed somatisation less frequently than had previously been observed, but there was substantial variation between GPs. The difference between groups in the number of diagnoses of somatisation failed to reach the 5% significance (P = 0.094). However, the rate of diagnoses of medically unexplained physical symptoms was twice as high in the intervention group as in the control group (7.7% and 3.9%, respectively, P = 0.007). Examination of the agreement between GPs' diagnoses and the screening questionnaire revealed no significant difference between groups. CONCLUSION: Brief training increased GPs' awareness of medically unexplained physical symptoms. Diagnostic accuracy according to a screening questionnaire remained unaffected but was difficult to evaluate, as there is no agreement on a gold standard for somatisation in general practice.

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Supplementary Material

Supplementary table 1. General practitioners' classification of the main problem presented by the patient in the consultation. The ratio of patients with a diagnosis of somatisation is presented for each GP:
Supplementary figure 1. General practitioners' classification of the main problem presented by the patient in the consultation as 'somatisation' compared with results from a patient screening questionnaire for somatisation:

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
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