Refugees, General practitioners, Medically unexplained physical symptoms, Prejudice, Trust, Stereotyping, Medical error
Objective: To confront the views of refugee patients and general practitioners in the Netherlands, focusing on medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS).
Methods: The study is based on in depth interviews with refugees from Afghanistan (n = 36) and Somalia (n = 30). Additionally, semistructured interviews were conducted with 24 general practitioners. Text fragments concerning the relationship between mental worries and health or physical ailments were subject of a secondary analysis, the results of which are presented.
Results: Medically unexplained physical symptoms were a key issue for both refugees and GPs. The GPs saw MUPS as a significant part of the illness presentation by refugee patients. Refugees felt GPs were often prejudiced, too readily using their difficult background as an explanation for physical symptoms. A ‘general narrative’ circulating in the refugee communities undermines trust. The GPs applied different
strategies in dealing with MUPS presented by their refugee patients. A ‘human interest strategy’ is distinguished from a ‘technical strategy’. The results are discussed in the wider context of the literature on MUPS and patient satisfaction.
Conclusion: No fundamental difference in paradigms was found between refugees and GPs as to the negative influence worries and bad
experiences can have on health. For a fruitful cooperation to develop, based on trust, GPs need to invest in the relationship with individual refugees, and avoid actions based on prejudice.
Practice implications: The importance of (a lack of) trust is underestimated in medical practice. Phenomena undermining trust are often out of sight for practitioners. Critical reflection is needed on the strategies practitioners employ to deal with MUPS.