Frequent attenders without organic disease in a gastroenterology clinic. Patient characteristics and health care use.
Bass C., Bond A., Gill D., Sharpe M.
We used a hospital computer to identify 50 patients (35 women, 15 men) satisfying research criteria for "frequent attenders" at a gastroenterology outpatient clinic (four or more visits to a general hospital clinic in the previous 12 months). Their mean duration of symptoms was 5 years, and 80% reported fatigue as a significant complaint. Thirteen (37%) of the women were also consulting a gynecologist, and in nine of these their status was normal. Seven (21%) of the 35 women who were interviewed had a history of childhood sexual abuse, and these patients reported significantly more lifetime somatic symptoms (9.7, SD = 3.8) than those without such a history (5.4, SD = 3.5, p = < 0.01). The 50 patients reported high levels of disability and psychological distress, and were more likely to rate the probability of their symptoms as being due to "bowel disease" than to "stress" or "other problems." Forty-five patients had at least one current psychiatric diagnosis and 24 at least two, with somatoform disorders being the most common. Nineteen (38%) reported infrequent panic attacks, but only three had somatization disorder. The mean number of lifetime somatic symptoms was 5.9 (SD = 3.6; range 1-14). Seventeen patients (35%) also satisfied criteria for frequent attending in primary care (> 12 visits over the previous 12 months), and the patients reported a mean number of 5.7 (SD = 2.1) specialist appointments in the previous year. There may be a case for using the hospital computer to identify frequent attenders proactively at an earlier stage of their hospital visits so that appropriate management can be instituted. If such patients can be identified in this way, their assessment and management might be more appropriately supervised in designated clinics by more experienced gastroenterology staff.