Voiced but unheard agendas: psychosocial cues in patients with unexplained symptoms

P Salmon, C Dowrick, A Ring, Gerald Michael Humphris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Citations (Scopus)


Background. Symptomatic investigation and treatment often attributed to patients' unexplained physical symptoms is beliefs and demands for physical treatments.

Aim. To test the influential assumption that patients who present symptoms that the general practitioner (GP) considers to be medically unexplained do not generally provide the opportunity for discussion of psychological issues.

Design of study: Qualitative analysis of audiotaped consultations between patients and GPs.

Setting Seven general practices in Merseyside, United Kingdom.

Methods: Transcripts of audiotaped consultations between 21 GPs and 36 patients with medically unexplained symptoms were analysed inductively to identify opportunities that patients presented for their doctors to address emotional problems or their need for explanation.

Results: All but two patients provided psychological opportunities They described social or emotional difficulties as problems of stress or mood. They presented their need for explanation by explicit questions, statements of concern about symptoms; suggestions that disease might be absent; or tentative references to serious disease In general, GPs did not engage with these cues.

Conclusions: Patients with unexplained symptoms present opportunities,for GPs to address psychological needs By taking these opportunities, GPs might be able to avoid unnecessary symptomatic intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-6
Number of pages6
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number500
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2004


  • consultation
  • general practice
  • psychosocial outcomes
  • unexplained symptoms


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