Objective: To evaluate effects of a communication training for specialists on the quality of their reply letters to general practitioners (GPs) about patients with medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS). Methods: Before randomization, specialists included ≤3 MUPS patients in a multi-center cluster-randomized trial. In 14 h of MUPS-specific communication training, 2.5 h focused on reply letters. Letters were discussed with regard to reporting and answering GPs' referral questions and patients' questions, and to reporting findings, explaining MUPS with perpetuating factors and giving advice. After the training, all doctors again included ≤3 MUPS patients. Reply letters to GPs were assessed for quality and blindly rated on a digital scale. Results: We recruited 478 MUPS patients and 123 specialists; 80% of the doctors wrote ≥1 reply letters, 285 letters were assessed. Trained doctors reported (61% versus 37%, OR=2.55, F(1281)=6.60, p<inf>group*time</inf>=.01) and answered (63% versus 33%, OR=3.31, F(1281)=5.36, p<inf>group*time</inf>=.02) patients' questions more frequently than untrained doctors. Conclusion: Training improves reply letters with regard to patients' questions, but not with regard to the following: GPs' referral questions, somatic findings, additional testing, explaining, and advice. Practice implications: Training specialists to write appropriate reply letters needs more focus on explanation and advice.

Cluster-randomized trial, Doctor-patient communication, General practice, Medical specialist, Medically unexplained physical symptoms, Patient-centered care, Physician-patient relationship, Post-graduate medical education, Reply letter
dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2015.06.021, hdl.handle.net/1765/92226
Patient Education and Counseling
Department of Bioinformatics

Weiland, A, Blankenstein, A.H, Willems, M.H.A, van Saase, J.L.C.M, van Daele, P.L.A, van der Molen, H.T, … Arends, L.R. (2015). Training specialists to write appropriate reply letters to general practitioners about patients with medically unexplained physical symptoms; A cluster-randomized trial. Patient Education and Counseling, 98(10), 1229–1235. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2015.06.021