Background: Respiratory diseases represent a significant burden in primary care. Determining the temporal variation of the overall burden of respiratory diseases on the health care system and their potential causes are keys to understanding disease dynamics in populations and can contribute to the rational management of health care resources.
Methods: A retrospective, cross-sectional time series analysis was used to assess the presence and strength of seasonal and temporal patterns in primary care visits for respiratory diseases in Ontario, Canada, for a 10-year period from January 1, 1992 to December 31, 2002. Data were extracted from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan database for people who had diagnosis codes for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, pneumonia, or upper respiratory tract infections.
Results: The results illustrate a clear seasonal pattern in visits to primary care physicians for all respiratory conditions, with a threefold increase in visits during the winter. Age and sex-specific rates show marked increases in visits of young children and in female adults. Multivariate time series methods quantified the interactions among primary care visits, and Granger causality criterion test showed that the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza virus influenced asthma (p = 0.0060), COPD (p = 0.0038), pneumonia (p = 0.0001), and respiratory diseases (p = 0.0001).
Conclusion: Primary care visits for respiratory diseases have clear predictable seasonal patterns, driven primarily by viral circulations. Winter visits are threefold higher than summer troughs, indicating a short-term surge on primary health service demands. These findings can aid in effective allocation of resources and services based on seasonal and specific population demands.