The doctor-patient relationship in chronic fatigue syndrome: survey of patient perspectives

Qual Prim Care. 2009;17(4):263-70.


Background: When confronted with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), general practitioners (GPs) need to deal with diverse complaints. This may introduce a sense of powerlessness and frustration in the GP, which could possibly undermine the doctor-patient relationship.

Aim: Our aim was to list the perspectives of patients with CFS regarding the medical encounter.

Method: This was a questionnaire study of systematically selected patients presenting to a tertiary clinic specialising in CFS. A questionnaire was presented to every third patient attending the clinic. Statistical computations were performed using the SPSS statistical package.

Results: One hundred and seventy-seven patients completed the questionnaire. A diagnosis of CFS was made by a GP in 8% of the cases. In 31% of the cases the GP had experience with general CFS complaints, and 35% of the GPs showed experience in CFS. Only 23% reported sufficient knowledge to treat the condition. According to the patients surveyed, 35% felt that their GP had experience in dealing with CFS.

Conclusions: The heterogeneity of CFS and the controversy surrounding this condition seemed to overwhelm GPs and strain the medical encounter. Patients with CFS seemed unsatisfied with the interaction with their doctor. Moreover, the results show that CFS is not addressed well by the medical community, and the failure to diagnose leads to a lack of empathetic care, with consequential loss of the capacity of the doctor to act as a healer.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnosis*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Perception
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult