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Counselling in primary care: A study of the psychological impact and cost benefits for four chronic conditions

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Primary care counselling services have expanded rapidly over the last twenty years. Their principal focus has been to manage the demands placed on general practitioners by high service users, such as frequent attenders and patients with mental health problems. To date, very little research has been conducted to ascertain the impact of counselling for other patient groups in terms either of psychological outcomes or of cost-benefits. This study looked at the effect of short-term counselling on both the uptake of health services and the psychological states of four patient groups – frequent attenders and patients with diabetes, hypertension and asthma. All patients on the chronic disease register for these conditions and all patients who had made at least eight GP appointments over the previous twelve months were invited to take part in the study. The participants received eight 90-minute small-group counselling sessions, conducted by trained counsellors. The counselling followed a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approach, with an emphasis on developing personal responsibility. Psychological outcomes were assessed using three proprietary measures (SF 36, HADS and CORE) immediately following counselling and at six months post-intervention. Health service uptake was assessed for each group over the twelve months post-intervention, using number of GP consultations, home visits, hospital referrals and test/investigations requested as outcome indicators. These data were compared with those for comparable control groups for each condition. The results suggested that, overall, all patient groups showed a significant improvement in psychological well-being, and that these gains were maintained for the six-month study period. The intervention groups also significantly reduced their uptake of primary and secondary care services, by comparison with their comparable control groups. The results suggest that the psychological and fiscal benefits of counselling provision within a primary care setting can extend to other patient categories.
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Keywords: Offset costs; chronic illness; counselling; primary care; service utilization

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Birmingham and Birmingham and Black Country Mental Health Network

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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