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BMC Fam Pract. 2004 Aug 20;5:17.

The contribution of demographic and morbidity factors to self-reported visit frequency of patients: a cross-sectional study of general practice patients in Australia.

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  • 1AIHW General Practice Statistics and Classification Unit, Family Medicine Research Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.



Understanding the factors that affect patients' utilisation of health services is important for health service provision and effective patient management. This study aimed to investigate the specific morbidity and demographic factors related to the frequency with which general practice patients visit a general practitioner/family physician (GP) in Australia.


A sub-study was undertaken as part of an ongoing national study of general practice activity in Australia. A cluster sample of 10,755 general practice patients were surveyed through a random sample of 379 general practitioners. The patient reported the number of times he/she had visited a general practitioner in the previous twelve months. The GP recorded all the patient's major health problems, including those managed at the current consultation.


Patients reported an average of 8.8 visits to a general practitioner per year. After adjusting for other patient demographics and number of health problems, concession health care card holders made on average 2.6 more visits per year to a general practitioner than did non-card holders (p <.001). After adjustment, patients from remote/very remote locations made 2.3 fewer visits per year than patients from locations where services were highly accessible (p <.001). After adjustment for patient demographics, patients with diagnosed anxiety made on average 2.7 more visits per year (p = 0.003), those with diagnosed depression 2.2 more visits than average (p <.0001), and those with back problems 2.4 more visits (p = 0.009) than patients without the respective disorders.


Anxiety, back pain and depression are associated with greater patient demand for general practice services than other health problems. The effect of sociodemographic factors on patient utilisation of general practice services is complex. Equity of access to general practice services remains an issue for patients from remote areas, while concession health care card holders are attending general practice more frequently than other patients relative to their number of health problems.

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