Background: Patients with persistent medically unexplained symptoms often exhibit general dysfunction and psychiatric comorbidity and frequently resist psychiatric referral. The aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of a collaborative care model including training for general practitioners (GPs) and a psychiatric consultation model for patients with persistent medically unexplained symptoms in general practice.
Method: Randomised controlled trial. Cluster randomisation at GP practices and multilevel analysis were performed. A total of 81 patients from 36 general practices completed the study. A collaborative care model of training and psychiatric consultation in general practice in the presence of the GP was compared with training plus care as usual by the GP. Outcome assessment on the patients' well-being, functioning and utilisation of health care services was performed 6 weeks and 6 months later.
Results: All the patients had somatoform disorders (Whitely Index 7.46), and 86% had comorbid psychiatric disorders. In the intervention group, the severity of the main medically unexplained symptoms decreased by 58%. The patients' social functioning improved. The utilization of health care was lower than in the care as usual group.
Conclusions: A collaborative care model combining training with psychiatric consultation in the general practice setting is an effective intervention in the treatment of persistent medically unexplained symptoms. Anxiety and depressive disorders are highly comorbid in this group. The findings warrant a larger study.