In this pragmatic cluster-randomised controlled trial the investigators aimed to test the effect of a training programme for general practitioners (GPs) in the treatment of functional somatic symptoms (FSS). Results indicate that GP training may accelerate improvement in physical functioning for patients with somatoform disorder. However, the effect is small and may not be clinically significant.
Patients with medically unexplained or functional somatic symptoms (FSS) are prevalent in primary care. In this pragmatic cluster-randomised controlled trial the investigators aimed to test the effect of a training programme (The Extended Reattribution and Management model) for general practitioners (GPs) in the treatment of FSS. 38 participating GPs were randomised to the control group or the training group. The GPs included consecutive 18- to 65-year-old patients presenting during a 3-week period for new health complaints. The investigators assessed a stratified subsample with the psychiatric interview Schedules of Clinical Assessment in Neuropsychiatry. Of 701 patients interviewed, 350 fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for any ICD-10 somatoform disorder (SD) and 111 presented FSS without fulfilling these criteria (sub-threshold SD). Patients completed questionnaires at baseline and after 3, 12 and 24 months. The questionnaires included assessment of health status (36-item Medical Outcomes Study Short Form; SF-36), health anxiety (Whiteley-7) and physical symptoms (Symptom Check List-90, somatization subscale).
Patients with SD consulting trained GPs improved more on the primary outcome of physical functioning than patients consulting control GPs at the 3-month follow-up (p = 0.004), but the improvement was not statistically significant at later follow-up. The investigators found no significant differences in improvement between patients with SD and those with sub-threshold SD. Results for other SF-36 subscales, physical symptoms and health anxiety only showed statistically significant differences between the intervention and control groups for patients with SD; patients consulting trained GPs had less improvement in vitality, health anxiety and physical symptoms at 24 months compared with the control group.
GP training may accelerate improvement in physical functioning for patients with SD. However, the effect is small and may not be clinically significant.