By David Tuller, DrPH
What does it mean that the top investigators in a field of research have collectively and consistently misrepresented a seminal figure in their purported domain of expertise? I’m talking about all those who present themselves as authorities on the topic of so-called “medically unexplained symptoms” (MUS) but have found it difficult to accurately cite a study that examined the purported costs of these conditions to the National Health Service. (This phenomenon was initially pointed out to me by an observant sleuth; I first wrote about it here.)
The study in question, Bermingham et al, is called “The cost of somatisation among the working-age population in England for the year 2008-2009.” It was published in 2010 in the journal Mental Health in Family Medicine. As one of its core findings, it estimated something very specific: NHS costs for patients of working age identified as “somatising” to even a minor extent accounted for around 10% of the total costs for that demographic category. In paper after paper, “experts” in MUS have translated that straightforward data point this way: Patients with MUS accounted for 10% of total NHS costs. The effect of that error is to more than triple the apparent impact of MUS on the NHS budget.