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Somatisation in primary care: experiences of primary care physicians involved in a training program and in a randomised controlled trial

José M Aiarzaguena1*, Idoia Gaminde2, Gonzalo Grandes3, Agustín Salazar1, Itziar Alonso4 and Álvaro Sánchez3

Author Affiliations

1 San Inazio Health Care Centre, Osakidetza/Basque Health Service, Bilbao, Spain

2 Continuous Education Unit, Department of Health, Pamplona, Spain

3 Primary Care Research Unit, Osakidetza/Basque Health Service, Bilbao, Spain

4 Faculty of Psychology, University of the Basque Country, Donostia, Spain

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:73  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-73

Published: 25 November 2009



A new intervention aimed at managing patients with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) based on a specific set of communication techniques was developed, and tested in a cluster randomised clinical trial. Due to the modest results obtained and in order to improve our intervention we need to know the GPs' attitudes towards patients with MUS, their experience, expectations and the utility of the communication techniques we proposed and the feasibility of implementing them. Physicians who took part in 2 different training programs and in a randomised controlled trial (RCT) for patients with MUS were questioned to ascertain the reasons for the doctors' participation in the trial and the attitudes, experiences and expectations of GPs about the intervention.


A qualitative study based on four focus groups with GPs who took part in a RCT. A content analysis was carried out.


Following the RCT patients are perceived as true suffering persons, and the relationship with them has improved in GPs of both groups. GPs mostly valued the fact that it is highly structured, that it made possible a more comfortable relationship and that it could be applied to a broad spectrum of patients with psychosocial problems. Nevertheless, all participants consider that change in patients is necessary; GPs in the intervention group remarked that that is extremely difficult to achieve.


GPs positively evaluate the communication techniques and the interventions that help in understanding patient suffering, and express the enormous difficulties in handling change in patients. These findings provide information on the direction in which efforts for improving intervention should be directed.

Trial registration

US NCT00130988