Objectives: To estimate prevalence of selected diagnosed chronic diseases among patients attending general practice, in the general practice patient population, and in the Australian population, and to compare population estimates with those of the National Health Survey (NHS).
Design, setting and participants: In late 2005, 305 general practitioners each provided data for about 30 consecutive patients (total, 9156) as part of the BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation And Care of Health) program, a continuous national study of general practice activity. GPs used their knowledge of the patient, patient self-report, and medical records as sources.
Main outcome measures: Crude prevalence of each listed condition currently under management among surveyed patients, and adjusted prevalence for the general practice patient population, and the national population.
Results: 39.6% of respondents had none of the listed conditions diagnosed; 30.0% had a cardiovascular problem (uncomplicated hypertension, 17.6%; ischaemic heart disease, 9.5%); 24.8% had a psychological problem (depression, 14.2%; anxiety, 10.7%); 22.8% had arthritis, mostly osteoarthritis (20.0%); 10.7% had asthma; and 8.3% had diabetes, mostly type 2 (7.2%). Adjustment to the population attending general practice resulted in lower estimates for cardiovascular disease, arthritis and diabetes but had little effect on prevalence of asthma and psychological problems. After adjusting for non-attenders, about one in five people in the population had a cardiovascular problem, a similar proportion had a psychological problem, 14.8% had arthritis, and about 10% had asthma, hyperlipidaemia and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Estimates were similar to NHS results for any arthritis, asthma, and malignant neoplasms; higher for any cardiovascular problem; far higher for specific cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular disease and hyperlipidaemia; and almost twice the NHS estimate for psychological problems (particularly depression and anxiety). Estimates for type 1 diabetes aligned with NHS results, but were far higher for "all diabetes" and type 2 diabetes.
Conclusions: This study offers an alternative, perhaps more accurate, approach to measurement of disease prevalence than the NHS approach, which relies on respondent self-report alone. It provides valid prevalence estimates with the help of GPs at a fraction of the cost of the NHS. This study could be repeated annually to augment other data sources and better define existing health needs in the population.