Frequent attenders in family practice are known to have higher rates of mental disorder. However little is known about specific psychiatric disorders and whether this behavior extends to specialist services, in an open access fee-for-service health care system.
Methods: 1060 patients from 46 family practices completed the Patient Health Questionnaire and the Client Service Receipt Inventory. During the consultation, family practitioners blind to the questionnaire responses rated the severity of mental health and physical disorders. The 10% of patients with the highest number of 6-month consultations in six age and sex stratified groups were defined as frequent attenders.
Results: After adjustments for sociodemographic variables, physical health and other psychiatric diagnoses, patients with a somatoform disorder were more likely to be frequent attenders, with an odds ratio of 2.3 (95% CI: 1.3-3.8, p=.002).
Conclusion: When adjusting for confounders, among the four psychiatric diagnoses investigated only somatoform disorders remain significantly associated with frequent attendance. Physical health and chronic disease were no longer associated with frequent attendance which does not support the hypothesis that in an open access fee-for-service system, patients will consult for a wider range of health problems. Greater investigation into unexplained somatic symptoms could help reduce the frequency of attendance in both primary and secondary care, as this behaviour appears to be a general health-seeking drive than extends beyond family practice.
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