When medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS) become persistent, it may have major implications for the patient, the general practitioner (GP) and for society.
Early identification of patients with MUPS in electronic medical records (EMRs) might contribute to prevention of persistent MUPS by creating awareness among GPs and providing an opportunity to start stepped care management. However, procedures for identification of patients with MUPS in EMRs are not well established yet. In this validation study we explore the test characteristics of an EMR screening method to identify patients with MUPS.
The EMR screening method consists of three steps. First, all patients ≥18 years were included when they had five or more contacts in the last 12 months. Second, patients with known chronic conditions were excluded. Finally, patients were included with a MUPS syndrome or when they had three or more complaints suggestive for MUPS. We compared the results of the EMR screening method with scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire-15 (PHQ-15), which we used as reference test. We calculated test characteristics for various cut-off points.
From the 1223 patients in our dataset who completed the PHQ-15, 609 (49/8%) scored ≥5 on the PHQ-15. The EMR screening method detected 131/1223 (10.7%) as patients with MUPS. Of those, 102 (77.9%) scored ≥5 on the PHQ-15 and 53 (40.5%) scored ≥10. When compared with the PHQ-15 cut-off point ≥10, sensitivity and specificity were 0.30 and 0.93 and positive and negative predictive values were 0.40 and 0.89, respectively.
The EMR screening method to identify patients with MUPS has a high specificity. However, many potential MUPS patients will be missed. Before using this method as a screening instrument for selecting patients who might benefit from structured care, its sensitivity needs to be improved while maintaining its specificity.