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Soc Sci Med. 2004 Aug;59(4):813-23.

Physical, mental and social factors associated with frequent attendance in Danish general practice. A population-based cross-sectional study.

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The Research Unit and Department of General Practice, University of Aarhus, Vennelyst, Boulevard 6, Aahus C 8000, Denmark.


Knowledge of which factors are prompting patients to seek primary care is important to the ongoing effort to improve management in general, and management of frequent attenders (FAs) in particular. We conducted a cross-sectional population-based study with the aim at examining associations between physical, mental and social factors and frequent attendance in general practice. We collected questionnaire and registry data in the County of Aarhus (630,000 inhabitants), Denmark. Half of the county general practices (132 practices, 220 GPs) were selected randomly. FAs were defined as the top 10% attenders over the past 12 months. A questionnaire including SF-36 and questions about physical and mental health and social conditions was sent to age and gender stratified samples of FAs and non-FAs from these practices. Impairments (SF-36) associated with frequent attendance were physical in 54-71% (prevalence difference (PD): 16-33%, adjusted prevalence ratio (adj. PR): 1.1-1.7), mental in 58-70% (PD: 17-25%, adj. PR:1.1-1.4) and social in 40-59% (PD: 13-28%, adj. PR:0.9-1.5). Among FAs, 46-88% had used three or more different drugs (PD: 26-39%, adj. PR:1.5-2.3) and 27-41% had been referred one or more times to outpatient specialists (PD: 4-19%, adj. PR:1.2-2.5). Although our data cannot determine the direction of causality, they clearly demonstrate that FAs carry a large burden of physical, mental and social impairments which underpins the complexity and heterogeneity of the problems which they present. The results make clear that biopsychosocial management is a core issue in FA management in general practice.

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