GPs have a central position in the care of patients with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS), but GPs find their care challenging. Currently, little is known about symptom management by GPs in daily practice for patients with MUS.
This study aimed to describe management strategies used by GPs when confronted with patients with MUS in daily practice.
Design and setting
Qualitative study in which videos and transcripts of 39 general practice consultations involving patients with MUS in the region of Nijmegen in the Netherlands in 2015 were analysed.
A thematic analysis of management strategies for MUS used by GPs in real-life consultations was performed.
The study revealed 105 management strategies consultations. Nearly half concerned symptom management; the remainder included medication, referrals, additional tests, follow-up consultations, and watchful waiting. Six themes of symptom management strategies emerged from the data: cognitions and emotions, interaction with health professionals, body focus, symptom knowledge, activity level, and external conditions. Advice on symptom management was often non-specific in terms of content, and ambiguous in terms of communication.
Symptom management is a considerable part of the care of MUS in general practice. GPs might benefit from support in how to promote symptom management to patients with MUS in specific and unambiguous terms.