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Fam Pract. 2012 Jun;29(3):272-82. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmr101. Epub 2012 Feb 3.

Reasons for encounter and symptom diagnoses: a superior description of patients' problems in contrast to medically unexplained symptoms (MUS).

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  • 1Faculty of Life and Health Sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland.


This is a review of the literature on the role of symptoms in family practice, with a focus on the diagnostic approach in family medicine (FM). We found two, contrasting, approaches to reducing symptoms presented by patients in primary care, especially those which do not immediately allow the definition of a disease-label diagnosis. Years of research into 'medically unexplained symptoms' (MUS) has failed to support an international body of knowledge and cannot convincingly support the philosophy on which the reduction itself is based. This review supports the approach of researching reasons for encounter as they present to the family doctor, without artificial mind-body metaphors. The medical model is shown to be an incomplete reduction of FM, and the concept of MUS fails to improve this situation. A new model based on a substantial paradigm shift is needed. That model should be the biopsychosocial model, reflected in the philosophical concepts of the International Classification of Primary Care and the value of the patient's 'reason for encounter'. There is more to life than medicine may diagnose, and FM should strive to move closer to the lives of our patients than the medical model alone could allow.

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