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Professional versus peer support: August research round-up

August 31, 2016

Each month, Action for M.E. Volunteer Pharmacist Emily Beardall explains some of the recently published research studies on M.E.

Please note this is not an exhaustive list – we have selected to highlight the studies that we think are most likely to resonate with the daily lives of those affected by the condition. We will also report separately on further studies of significance, as and when they are published.

You can search online directory PubMed for most studies about M.E. published in peer-reviewed journals.

The following studies were published online between 22 July 2016 and 21 August 2016. In each case, we have used the same name for the illness as the researchers publishing the paper.

Professional versus peer support

A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research looked at the treatment recommendations given by UK medical authorities (such as the NHS and NICE) compared with the recommendations from patient support organisations. It was found that patient support organisations favour complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs), pharmacological, and pacing therapies, and that half were against rehabilitative therapy, whereas the medical authorities viewed CAMs negatively, and recommended rehabilitative treatment. The authors suggest this discrepancy is due to “different language to describe similar approaches, such as baseline setting and pacing” and some patients’ experiences of poorly delivered rehabilitation therapy and stressed that success of behavioural approaches does not imply that CFS/ME is a psychological or psychiatric disorder.

Communication between GPs and people with CFS

An opinion piece in the British Journal of General Practice discusses the biopsychosocial model, used to explain how biological, psychological and sociological factors combine in illnesses. The author suggests that when this approach is applied to CFS it encourages GPs to see it as psychosomatic, with the physical symptoms being caused by psychological distress. The author suggests five alternative ways GPs could communicate with CFS patients so as not to cause harm:

  • Inform patients of the absence of a known cause of CFS (rather than speculating that it is psychosomatic).
  • Inform patients that there are explanations for some CFS symptoms (for example, the biomedical evidence highlighted in the Institute of Medicine report).
  • Offer patients CBT, but include that it doesn’t work for everyone.
  • Offer alternative interventions and support, such as counselling and community care (rather than just referral to CFS clinics).
  • Accept the patient’s account of their illness rather than inferring it is just their illness beliefs.

Quicker diagnosis of CFS/ME

An article in BMC Family Practice recommends that a simple clinical scoring system combined with a short list of routine investigations is all that is needed for GPs to distinguish between CFS/M.E. and other causes of ongoing fatigue. Early diagnosis using this system developed by Sutton CFS/M.E. service could prevent patients being referred to several different specialisms to have other illnesses ruled out – this takes months to conclude a diagnosis of CFS/M.E. and is stressful for patients and costly to the NHS.