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What's ‘difficult’? A multi-stage qualitative analysis of secondary care specialists' experiences with medically unexplained symptoms


Maatz, Anke; Wainright, Megan; Russell, Andrew; Macnaughton, Jane; Yiannakou, Yan (2016). What's ‘difficult’? A multi-stage qualitative analysis of secondary care specialists' experiences with medically unexplained symptoms. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 90:1-9.

Abstract

Background The term ‘difficult’ is pervasively used in relation to medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) and patients with MUS. This article scrutinises the use of the term by analysing interview data from a study of secondary care specialists' experiences with and attitudes towards patients suffering from MUS. Design Qualitative design employing semi-structured open-ended interviews systematically analysed in three stages: first, data were analysed according to the principles of content analysis. The analysis subsequently focused on the use of the term ‘difficult’. Iterations of the term were extracted by summative analysis and thematic coding revealed its different meanings. Finally, alternative expressions were explored. Setting Three NHS trust secondary care hospitals in North-East England. Participants 17 senior clinicians from seven medical and two surgical specialities. Results Unsolicited use of the term ‘difficult’ was common. ‘Difficult’ was rarely used as a patient characteristic or to describe the therapeutic relationship. Participants used ‘difficult’ to describe their experience of diagnosing, explaining, communicating and managing these conditions and their own emotional reactions. Health care system deficits and the conceptual basis for MUS were other facets of ‘difficult’. Participants also reported experiences that were rewarding and positive. Conclusions This study shows that blanket statements such as ‘difficult patients’ mask the complexity of doctors' experiences in the context of MUS. Our nuanced analysis of the use of ‘difficult’ challenges preconceived attitudes. This can help counter the unreflexive perpetuation of negative evaluations that stigmatize patients with MUS, encourage greater acknowledgement of doctors' emotions, and lead to more appropriate conceptualizations and management of MUS.

Abstract

Background The term ‘difficult’ is pervasively used in relation to medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) and patients with MUS. This article scrutinises the use of the term by analysing interview data from a study of secondary care specialists' experiences with and attitudes towards patients suffering from MUS. Design Qualitative design employing semi-structured open-ended interviews systematically analysed in three stages: first, data were analysed according to the principles of content analysis. The analysis subsequently focused on the use of the term ‘difficult’. Iterations of the term were extracted by summative analysis and thematic coding revealed its different meanings. Finally, alternative expressions were explored. Setting Three NHS trust secondary care hospitals in North-East England. Participants 17 senior clinicians from seven medical and two surgical specialities. Results Unsolicited use of the term ‘difficult’ was common. ‘Difficult’ was rarely used as a patient characteristic or to describe the therapeutic relationship. Participants used ‘difficult’ to describe their experience of diagnosing, explaining, communicating and managing these conditions and their own emotional reactions. Health care system deficits and the conceptual basis for MUS were other facets of ‘difficult’. Participants also reported experiences that were rewarding and positive. Conclusions This study shows that blanket statements such as ‘difficult patients’ mask the complexity of doctors' experiences in the context of MUS. Our nuanced analysis of the use of ‘difficult’ challenges preconceived attitudes. This can help counter the unreflexive perpetuation of negative evaluations that stigmatize patients with MUS, encourage greater acknowledgement of doctors' emotions, and lead to more appropriate conceptualizations and management of MUS.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:November 2016
Deposited On:21 Sep 2016 08:34
Last Modified:22 Sep 2016 01:03
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0022-3999
Funders:County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2016.09.005

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