BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:56doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-56
A new study called ‘The hidden cost of chronic fatigue to patients and their families’ has been published in the online journal BMC Health Services Research. The paper does not examine chronic fatigue syndrome in isolation but refers to a survey of 222 patients who presented with symptoms of ‘unexplained chronic fatigue’ at 29 GP surgeries in London and the South East.
The five researchers involved – all from London – work at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College;Academic Department of Physiotherapy Health and Social Care Research Division, King’s College;Department of Mental Health Sciences, Hampstead Campus, University College London; and the King’s College London Dental Institute.
Nearly 1 in 10 in the population experience fatigue of more than six months at any one time. Chronic fatigue is a common reason for consulting a general practitioner, and some patients report their symptoms are not taken seriously enough. A gap in perceptions may occur because doctors underestimate the impact of fatigue on patients’ lives. The main aim of the study is to explore the economic impact of chronic fatigue in patients seeking help from general practitioners and to identify characteristics that explain variations in costs.
The design of study was a survey of patients presenting to general practitioners with unexplained chronic fatigue. The setting were 29 general practice surgeries located in the London and South Thames regions of the English National Health Service. Use of services over a six month period was measured and lost employment recorded. Regression models were used to identify factors that explained variations in these costs.
The mean total cost of services and lost employment across the sample of 222 patients was £3878 for the six-month period. Formal services accounted for 13% of this figure, while lost employment accounted for 61% and informal care for 26%. The variation in the total costs was significantly related to factors linked to the severity of the condition and social functioning.
The economic costs generated by chronic fatigue are high and mostly borne by patients and their families. Enquiry about the functional consequences of fatigue on the social and occupational lives of patients may help doctors understand the impact of fatigue, and make patients feel better understood.