Objective: To study the incidence, prevalence, and consultation rates of patients with shoulder complaints in general practice in the Netherlands during 10 years following initial presentation.
Methods: A primary care database with an average population of 30,000 patients per year aged 18 years or older was used to select patients who consulted their general practitioner (GP) with shoulder complaints in the northern part of the Netherlands in the year 1998. Information about consultations for shoulder complaints was extracted. Incidence and prevalence for men, women, and different age groups were calculated for 9 and 10 years.
Results: A total of 526 patients consulted their GP with a new shoulder complaint. During an average follow-up of 7.6 years, these patients consulted their GP 1331 times because of their shoulder complaints (average of 0.33 consultations per year). Almost half of the patients consulted their GP only once. Patients in the 45-64 age category had the highest probability of repeated GP consultations during follow-up. Average incidence was 29.3 per 1000 person-years. Women and patients in the 45-64 age category have the highest incidence. The annual prevalence of shoulder complaints ranged from 41.2 to 48.4 per 1000 person-years, calculated for the period 1998 to 2007, and was higher among women than among men.
Conclusion: Although the incidence of shoulder complaints in general practice is as high as 29.3 per 1000 person-years, GPs' workload is generally low, as nearly half of these patients consult their GP only once for their complaint.