Background: Somatoform-type disorders and functional medically unexplained symptoms are extremely common in primary care settings. These disorders, however, are consistently underdiagnosed and under-recognised which precludes effective treatment. Given that somatoform symptoms are associated with high impairment, healthcare costs and both physician and patient frustration, it is critical to improve early detection. The first step in improving patient care is to identify the current barriers which obstruct successful diagnosis to enable the design of targeted interventions.
Methods/Design: We aim to conduct a systematic review to identify the possible physician-, patient- and society-related factors and other practical constraints which may impede successful diagnosis. In the process, we will also be able to recognise the differences in methodological techniques, recommend potential avenues for future research and comment on the literature in this field as a whole. We aim to conduct a systematic review of the relevant peer-reviewed literature published in English or German in the past 10 years in MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Additional studies may be identified from the reference lists of included studies. Title and abstract screening and data extraction from full text manuscripts will be conducted by two independent reviewers. Because we are including a combination of qualitative and quantitative studies, the review will provide a broad understanding of the current situation. Wherever possible, the method and reporting of the review will adhere to the guidelines outlined in the PRISMA statement and bias will be assessed using the Cochrane collaboration's recommendations. We envisage that data will be synthesised using a multilevel (qualitative and quantitative) approach which combines textual narrative and thematic analysis. Barriers will be categorised as modifiable or non-modifiable according to a conceptual framework. The review has been registered in an international registry of systematic reviews PROSPERO (CRD42013002540).
Discussion: We hope that this study will provide an insight into the barriers to diagnosis of somatoform-type disorders and the results can be used to target appropriate interventions to improve care for these patients.