The Functional Status of Inner-City Primary Care Patients: Diminished Function in a Family Practice Population and Its Potential Determinants

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Research on health care quality and effectiveness often relies on global health status measures, such as functional status, but little is known about the functional status of patients in the primary care setting (without limitation to specific diseases) and even less about the function of the poor or ethnic minorities. In preparation for a planned practice-based research network, we administered a functional-status survey to patients visiting an inner-city family practice center.


Over 9 weeks, 555 established patients older than 18 years, as well as adolescents accompanied by a parent or guardian, completed a survey that included the SF-36 Health Survey and questions about demographic variables and cigarette use. The survey was self-administered in the waiting area and examination room, and patients received no assistance from staff.


Functional-status scores reported by this primary care cohort were significantly lower than those of the general population (P < .001) and comparable with those reported nationally for patients with chronic diseases (eg, congestive heart failure, diabetes). Functional-status scores were associated with age, sex, and, most strikingly, socioeconomic status. For example, patients with a yearly income of less than $15,000 had lower mean physical function scores than those reported nationally for patients with hypertension, diabetes, depression, recent myocardial infarction, or hypertension (P <.05). Patients who currently smoked reported lower physical function (P =.004) and strikingly lower mental function (P <.001) than nonsmokers.


Although patients completing the survey included healthy persons seeking preventive care and sick patients with acute and chronic illnesses, their overall functional status resembled that reported nationally for patients with chronic disease, perhaps reflecting the influence of poverty. Few studies have reported the association we observed between smoking and lower functional status. Further longitudinal studies in the primary care setting are necessary to fully interpret these associations and to evaluate the true impact of interventions on outcomes.

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