DOI: 10.1177/21501319231214876 ISSN: 2150-1319

Challenging Interactions Between Patients With Severe Health Anxiety and the Healthcare System: A Qualitative Investigation

Robert E. Brady, Armando N. Braz
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Community and Home Care


Patients with severe health anxiety have complex interpersonal relationships with medical providers and others in their social context, often resulting in conflictual interactions with providers and perception of poor medical care. An adequate understanding of the causes and consequences of these interactions is lacking, particularly 1 informed by the experience of the patient. This study used qualitative methods to explore the development and maintenance of health anxiety from the perspective of patients with lived experience of coping with health anxiety and their interactions with the healthcare system.


We conducted qualitative interviews with 11 primary care patients purposely sampled to describe their experience living with health anxiety, provider interactions, and social and family interactions surrounding health and health anxiety. We extracted themes related to living with health anxiety and interactions with providers and other significant relationships.


Thematic content analysis revealed 5 themes including 3 causal themes, 1 response theme, and 1 theme reflecting factors that mitigate health anxiety. Causal themes included subthemes reflecting predisposing factors of the self, key stimulus events from patient learning history, and maladaptive social interaction factors. The response theme was comprised of 2 subthemes: logical conclusions and health anxiety symptoms. The mitigating factors theme included subthemes of a trusting care relationship and recognition of disconfirming evidence.


The themes and constituent subthemes identified in this study largely map onto cognitive-behavioral theory of health anxiety, demonstrating alignment between patient experience and theory. The resulting model also identifies potential points of intervention in the developmental and maintenance process. We provide recommendations to maximize those points of intervention.

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