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Severe health anxiety is a chronic and costly disorder if untreated. Patient self-referral may lower barriers to treatment and decrease diagnostic delay.
This study evaluated the accuracy of self-referral for severe health anxiety and compared characteristics of patients self-referred to internet-delivered treatment with patients referred by a clinician to face-to-face treatment.
Two trials in the same clinic employed different referral methods for health anxiety, namely self-referral and clinician-referral (trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov: NCT01158430 and NCT02735434). The trials were conducted at different time points but with largely comparable eligibility criteria. The accuracy of the recruitment methods was compared by looking at the number of eligible patients in the two trials. Patients completed a baseline questionnaire and subsequently underwent a diagnostic interview by experienced clinicians. Mean differences in self-report and clinical data explored between-group demographic and clinical characteristics.
In total, 101/151 (67%) self-referred patients were eligible compared with 126/254 (50%) clinician-referred patients (P = 0.001). Self-referred patients were 3.4 years older (P = 0.008) and had a somewhat higher educational level (P = 0.030). Patients who self-referred reported significantly higher levels of health anxiety, emotional distress and somatic symptoms compared with clinician-referred patients. Yet, they had less clinician-assessed comorbid anxiety disorders (P<0.001) and better physical health-related quality of life (P<0.001) suggesting a more distinct symptom profile.
Self-referral was found to be an accurate method to recruit highly relevant patients with treatment-demanding health anxiety. Thus, both self-referral and clinician-referral seem feasible and valid referral methods, but they may recruit patients with slightly different characteristics.
Declaration of interest
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