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Urgent Care Coping: Supporting Patients with Severe Health Anxiety

posted 14 Mar 2019, 04:12 by Hollie O'Connell   [ updated 10 Jun 2019, 02:03 by Philip O'Connell ]




14 March 2019 


In June 2018, findings from the study ‘Helping Urgent Care Users Cope with Distress about Physical Complaints’, lead by Professor Richard Morriss of the University of Nottingham, were first presented and then subsequently published in January 2019.

The purpose of the study was to compare the clinical and economic outcomes of using remote cognitive behavioural therapy (RCBT) to treatment as usual (TAU) for repeat unscheduled care users with severe health anxiety.  Dr Sam Malins, Clinical Psychologist at Nottinghamshire NHS Foundation Trust, integrated Flo as an additional support tool to the RCBT group following their participation in the study.

What is Health Anxiety?
“Health anxiety is an anxiety condition that is often housed within the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum of disorders.  Those affected by health anxiety have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea that they are currently (or will be) experiencing a physical illness.... the person experiencing health anxiety may fixate on any type of illness….  Those who are affected by health anxiety/illness phobia are convinced that harmless physical symptoms are indicators of serious disease or severe medical conditions.  For example, if a person experiencing health anxiety feels their chest is getting tight, they may believe that they are having a heart attack.  Those with health anxiety frequently misinterpret physical symptoms of anxiety as a sign of an impending physical health problem.” 


We were delighted to hear about Flo supporting the provision of RCBT in Nottinghamshire by providing additional support for participants in the study.  Following prompts asking how they were feeling, Flo interacted with participants around how they felt by sending personalised messages.  The messages were written by the participants themselves to maximise the impact of interactions.

The inclusion of Flo within the study aimed to reinforce positive changes made during RCBT sessions and to support long-term behaviour changes amongst those with Health Anxiety and as a result, reduce the number of contacts with unplanned/urgent care providers.

In total, 156 participants were recruited, half of whom received treatment as usual, while the other half received RCBT.  For those in the latter group, CBT sessions took place either by phone, or through a WebEx video call.  It was found that those in the RCBT had significantly improved outcomes for generalised anxiety, depression and overall health at 12 months when compared with those receiving treatment as usual.

The findings from this study were officially published in BMC Medicine in January 2019 and is available to download here (Membership required).