Exploring the differences in general practitioner and health care specialist utilization according to education, occupation, income and social networks across Europe: findings from the European social survey (2014) special module on the social determinants of health

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Abstract

Background:

Low socioeconomic position (SEP) tends to be linked to higher use of general practitioners (GPs), while the use of health care specialists is more common in higher SEPs. Despite extensive literature in this area, previous studies have, however, only studied health care use by income or education. The aim of this study is, therefore, to examine inequalities in GP and health care specialist use by four social markers that may be linked to health care utilization (educational level, occupational status, level of financial strain and size and frequency of social networks) across 20 European countries and Israel.

Methods:

Logistic regression models were employed using data from the seventh round of the European Social Survey; this study focused upon people aged 25–75 years, across 21 countries. Health care utilization was measured according to self-reported use of GP or specialist care within 12 months. Analyses tested four social markers: income (financial strain), occupational status, education and social networks.

Results:

We observed a cross-national tendency that countries with higher or equal probability of GP utilization by lower SEP groups had a more consistent probability of specialist use among high SEP groups. Moreover, countries with inequalities in GP use in favour of high SEP groups had comparable levels of inequalities in specialist care utilization. This was the case for three social markers (education, occupational class and social networks), while the pattern was less pronounced for income (financial strain).

Conclusion:

There are significant inequalities associated with GP and specialist health care use across Europe—with higher SEP groups more likely to use health care specialists, compared with lower SEP groups. In the context of health care specialist use, education and occupation appear to be particularly important factors.

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