The EURONET-SOMA initiative

BEGINNING

The Ministry of Science and Research of Hamburg, Germany, provided the necessary funding for EURONET-SOMA (full title: European Network to improve diagnostic, treatment and health care for patients with persistent somatic symptoms). This funding enabled us to invite an expert panel of 29 experienced researchers from 9 European countries (the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Latvia, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany and Russia) to participate in two three-day-workshop-conferences hosted at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany in July and November 2016.

During the first conference, leading experts in the field of persistent somatic symptoms introduced their work by presenting their current research projects and state-of-the-art procedures, thereby mapping the evidence on persistent somatic symptoms across Europe. Two predefined working groups on “Symptom Research and Diagnostics” and “Treatment” were established to identify current and future challenges and discuss their impact. Moderated discussions in the two working groups were used to identify research questions, develop solutions and establish future directions for a European research network on persistent somatic symptoms. A Delphi study was initiated as a tool to develop a European research agenda for persistent somatic symptoms.

 

EURONET-SOMA experts identified the lack of a commonly accepted definition and conceptualization of persistent somatic symptoms as one major challenge. Suggestions to face this challenge included to synthesize current conceptual models, definitions and etiology models and to develop recommendations for further interdisciplinary and multi-method research. Furthermore, there was consent between the EURONET-SOMA experts about the urgent need for a common and interdisciplinary agreement on the diagnostic classification for persistent somatic symptoms. This includes a consent on practical, valid, and comparable measures to assess persistent somatic symptom diagnosis and severity across European countries as well as recommendations for core outcome domains for clinical trials on persistent somatic symptoms. From a treatment perspective prevention programs, personalized and targeted treatment programs as well as online and public health interventions are promising approaches but still in their infancies. It is a challenge to identify key risk and protective factors for the development and chronic manifestation of somatic symptoms as well as barriers to early treatment.

EURONET-SOMA Mission Statement

EURONET-SOMA is a European expert network of clinicians and researchers. It aims to improve research, treatment, communication, and collaboration on persistent somatic symptoms across scientific disciplines and medical settings.

Persistent Somatic Symptoms (PSS) are frequently encountered in all medical settings. The term PSS is thereby used as an umbrella term to describe somatic complaints which are - irrespective of their etiology - distressing for the individual and have been present for at least several months. PSS are highly prevalent across Europe and pose a major challenge to all medical fields. They have substantial impact on patients and health services, causing significant disability, distress, and costs. Definitions and concepts of PSS vary between medical disciplines (e.g. somatic symptom disorder, functional somatic syndrome, bodily distress disorder, bodily distress syndrome). The mechanisms of symptom persistence are poorly understood and there is a lack of common standards for the management of PSS across Europe.

In order to achieve awareness for PSS in Europe, research of the EURONET-SOMA network aims to

  • increase and enhance knowledge on the etiology, diagnosis and treatment of PSS across medical disciplines
  • provide best practice examples for clinical guidelines, diagnostic tools and evidence-based treatment options for PSS
  • foster an intensive knowledge exchange between clinical and scientific experts, policy makers, and patient representatives
  • establish international networks to enhance research, treatment and knowledge transfer

EURONET-SOMA members are committed to contribute to training of clinicians and junior researchers, involvement of patients, information of the public, and development of innovative and easily accessible (e-health) interventions for PSS. We especially strive to make existing knowledge available to countries with less resources and infrastructure. All network members are committed to enhance clinical decision-making, health service utilization, and quality of life of patients with PSS across the lifespan and across disciplines and countries.