Background: Medically unexplained physical symptoms are an important health problem in primary care, with a spectrum from mild to chronic. The burden of chronic medically unexplained physical symptoms is substantial for patients, health care professionals, and society. Therefore, early identification of patients with moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms is needed in order to prevent chronicity. The preventive screening of medically unexplained physical symptoms (PRESUME) screening method was developed using data from the electronic medical record of the patients' general practitioner and demonstrated its prognostic accuracy to identify patients with moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms. In the next step, we developed a proactive blended and integrated mental health and physical therapy intervention program (PARASOL) to reduce complaints of moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms, stimulate self-management, and prevent chronicity.
Objective: The primary objective of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of the blended PARASOL intervention on the impact of symptoms and quality of life in patients with moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms compared with usual care. Secondary objectives are to study the effect on severity of physical and psychosocial symptoms, general health, physical behavior, illness perception, and self-efficacy in patients with moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms as well as to determine the cost-effectiveness of the program.
Methods: This paper presents the study protocol of a multicenter cluster randomized clinical trial. Adult patients with moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms will be identified from electronic medical record data using the PRESUME screening method and proactively recruited for participation in the study. Cluster randomization will be performed at the level of the participating health care centers. In total 248 patients with moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms (124 patients per arm) are needed. The PARASOL intervention is a 12-week blended primary care program consisting of 4 face-to-face consultations with the mental health nurse and 5 physical therapy sessions, supplemented with a Web-based program. The Web-based program contains (1) information modules and videos on self-management and educative themes, (2) videos and instructions on prescribed home exercises, and (3) assignments to gradually increase the physical activity. The program is directed at patients' perception of symptoms as well as modifiable prognostic risk factors for chronicity using therapeutic neuroscience education. It encourages self-management, as well as an active lifestyle using a cognitive behavioral approach and graded activity. Primary outcomes are impact of symptoms and quality of life. Secondary outcomes are severity of physical and psychosocial symptoms, general health, physical behavior, illness perceptions, self-efficacy, and cost-effectiveness. All measurements will be performed at baseline, 3 and 12 months after baseline. Retrospective cost questionnaires will also be sent at 6 and 9 months after baseline and these will be used for the cost-effectiveness analysis.
Results: The intervention has been developed, and the physical therapists and mental health nurses in the participating experimental health care centers have received two days of training on the content of the blended PARASOL intervention. The recruitment of health care centers started in June 2016 and inclusion of patients began in March 2017. Follow-up assessments of patients are expected to be completed in March 2019.
Conclusions: This study is the first randomized clinical trial to determine the effectiveness (including cost-effectiveness) of a proactive, blended, and integrated mental health and physical therapy care program for patients with moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms. The findings will help to improve the treatment for patients with moderate medically unexplained physical symptoms and prevent chronicity.
Trial registration: Netherlands Trial Register NTR6755; http://www.trialregister.nl/trialreg/admin/rctview.asp?TC=6755 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6ywporY7u).
Keywords: blended care; intervention; medically unexplained physical symptoms; multidisciplinary; primary care.
©Paula Elisabeth van Westrienen, Martijn F Pisters, Suze AJ Toonders, Marloes Gerrits, Cindy Veenhof, Niek J de Wit. Originally published in JMIR Research Protocols (http://www.researchprotocols.org), 08.05.2018.