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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2011 Feb;50(2):389-95. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keq333. Epub 2010 Nov 2.

Patients with shoulder complaints in general practice: consumption of medical care.

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  • 1Department of Orthopedic Surgery, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.



To describe the medical consumption [general practitioner (GP) consultation, referrals, medication consumption] of patients with shoulder complaints in general practice.


Data were obtained from a primary-care medical registration network. All patients aged ≥18 years with new shoulder complaints who consulted their general practitioner in 1998 were included, and were followed 10 years beyond the initial consultation.


A total of 526 incident cases were identified (average age 47 years, 65% women and average follow-up 7.6 years). Nearly half of the patients consulted their GP only once. For 79% of those patients, a wait-and-see policy or a prescription for NSAIDs sufficed. During follow-up, 65% of all patients were prescribed medication. Medication consumption was significantly higher among men than women, and higher for the 45- to 64-year age group compared with the younger group. A total of 199 patients were referred, of which 84% was to a physiotherapist and 16% to secondary care. Only two patients had surgery, performed by an orthopaedic surgeon. The GP recorded a diagnosis in only 14% of patients; rotator cuff disorder being the most common.


Nearly half of patients with a new shoulder complaint consult their GP only once. Medical consumption in general practice is highest for male shoulder patients and the 45- to 64-year age group. Shoulder problems are mainly an issue for primary care.

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