Therapy for Hypochondriacs May Help Health Systems Cut Costs

Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for hypochondria, which may help health services cut costs because it can be delivered by non-specialists with minimal training, according to U.K. researchers.

One year after cognitive behavior therapy, twice as many patients suffering from hypochondria reached normal levels of health anxiety and depression compared with those receiving standard care consisting of reassurance and support from doctors, according to research led by Peter Tyrer, head of the Centre for Mental Health at Imperial College London. The study was published today in the Lancet medical journal.

Effective treatment of hypochondria may help address the “substantial burden” on health services where doctors perform unnecessary and expensive diagnostic testing because of fear of litigation, Tyrer said. Still, the cost-effectiveness of such therapy is unclear given the presence of multiple emotional problems observed among outpatients, said Chris Williams of the University of Glasgow and Allan House of the University of Leeds.

“To develop multiple parallel services makes no sense, especially since the common emotional disorders overlap substantially,” Williams and House said in a comment accompanying the article. “Treatment should be available in general hospital settings, in multidisciplinary liaison psychiatry or clinical health psychology clinics that can deal with the full range of problems.”

The study, funded by the U.K.’s National Coordinating Centre for Health Technology Assessment, included 444 patients attending cardiology, endocrine, gastroenterology, respiratory and neurology clinics in six U.K. hospitals.

Therapy involved five to 10 sessions delivered by non-experts in cognitive behavior therapy who were trained in two workshops.

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