Is frequent attendance in primary care disease-specific?

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Abstract

Background

Sociodemographic characteristics of frequent attenders in general practice are known. It is not known whether frequent attendance is linked to specific diseases.

Objective

To investigate whether frequent consultation in primary care is related to specific morbidities and whether this relationship is influenced by the general practice which the patient attends.

Design

One-year survey of consultation data.

Setting

Nine general practices in North Staffordshire, UK.

Participants

1000 adults aged 18 years and over who had consulted primary care at least once during the study year were randomly selected from each practice and grouped into frequent (high and very high), medium and low frequency consulters.

Main outcome measures

Type of morbidity coded at each consultation and number of repeat consultations for each morbidity (based on Read Code Chapters).

Results

All morbidity Chapters were associated with frequent consultation. Frequent consultation was also associated with repeated consultation within most morbidities. Stronger associations were seen with mental disorders, blood disorders, circulatory disorders, digestive disorders, endocrine diseases and with causes of injury and poisoning. Some variation between practices in the morbidities associated with frequent consultation were apparent; particularly for skin diseases and unspecified conditions.

Conclusions

Frequent consulters in primary care are not restricted to particular groups of morbidities. There is some aspect of frequent consultation that is a characteristic of individuals regardless of the symptoms with which they consult. Some morbidities are more prominent than others in this group of consulters, and this may help guide practice policies and future research into frequent consulters.

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