Objectives: This study attempted to determine whether prior use of health services predicts a subsequent risk of unemployment and also to describe the acute effects of exposure to unemployment on the use of health care services.
Material and methods: The 1986 census records were linked with comprehensive health care information for the period 1983-1989 for over 44629 randomly selected residents of Manitoba, Canada. All cause and cause-specific rates of hospital admission and ambulatory physician contacts were compared between 1498 unemployed and 18272 employed persons across 4 consecutive time periods related to the onset of unemployment.
Results: The adjusted rates of hospital admission and physician contacts were higher among the unemployed across all 4 periods. When persons with a history of mental health treatment were excluded, health care use in the period prior to the onset of unemployment was equivalent among the employed and unemployed. When a history of mental health treatment was controlled for, all-cause and cause-specific health care use was elevated among the unemployed during the unemployment spell.
Conclusions: Unemployed persons had increased hospitalization rates before their current spell of unemployment. Much of this difference was due to the subgroup with prior mental health treatment. For persons without prior mental health care, hospitalization increased after a period of unemployment.