Context: Many patients in primary care somatise psychological distress. Training general practitioners (GPs) to manage somatisation has been shown to lead to improvements in their management of these patients. However, the training has been intensive and conducted by psychiatrists, making it impractical for widespread use. The aim of this research was to determine the effectiveness of a teaching package in improving the ability of GP registrars to manage patients who somatise, when taught by GP vocational course tutors within the constraints of a general practice vocational training scheme.
Methods: This was a before-and-after training evaluation of GP registrars' skills. A total of 22 GP registrars and 6 GP course organisers were recruited from 3 GP vocational training schemes. The GP trainees had 2 videotaped consultations with trained actors role-playing patients with somatised depression, before and 1 month after training.
Results: There was a significant overall improvement in the ability of GP registrars to manage patients who somatise (mean scores on a 4-point Likert scale: pre-training 1.4 [standard deviation, SD, 0.6]; post-training 2.2 [SD 0.9]; P = 0.002). General practice registrars improved their ability to use a negotiating style of consultation (skill present in 8/22 pre-training, 16/22 post-training; P = 0.02) and also demonstrated more empathy during the 'consultation' after training (mean scores on a 5-point Likert scale: pre-training 2.3 [SD 1.0]; post-training 3.0 [SD 0.8]; P = 0.03).
Conclusions: Using a structured training package, it is possible for GP vocational course tutors to successfully teach GP registrars to manage patients who somatise psychological distress. Given limited resources for teaching in terms of cost and time, this training package could have important implications for training medical staff.