Background: About 30% of the Danish population has one or more chronic conditions, and general practitioners (GPs) play a key role in effective chronic care management. However, little is known about these encounters in general practice. The aim was to describe the frequency of patients with one or more chronic conditions in general practice and how these consultations were experienced by the GPs.
Methods: All GPs in the Central Denmark Region were invited to register all contacts during one day in the 12-month study period from December; 404 (46%) accepted. For each patient contact, the GPs were asked to fill in a one-page registration form covering information on chronic disease, reason for encounter, diagnosis, number of additional psychosocial problems raised by the patient during the consultation, time consumption, experienced burden of the consultation, referral to specialized care, and whether a nurse could have substituted the GP. Patients were categorized according to the number of chronic conditions (none, one, two, three or more) and the categories compared with regard to the GP-experienced burden of the contacts. Moreover, we examined which chronic conditions posed the the greatest challenge to the GPs.
Results: Patients aged 40 years or more had a total of 8,236 contacts. Among these patients 2,849 (34.6%; 95% CI 33.6-35.6) had one and 2,596 (31.5%; CI 30.5-32.5) had more than one chronic disease. The time consumption and the burden of their contacts tended to rise with the number of chronic conditions. Being present in 22.9% (CI 21.6-24.3) of all face-to-face contacts, hypertension was the most common chronic condition. The burden of the contacts was experienced as particularly heavy for patients with depression and dementia due to more additional psychosocial problems and the time consumption.
Conclusion: General practitioners considered consultations with multimorbid patients demanding and not easily delegated to nurses. As the number of patients with chronic conditions and multimorbidity is increasing, GPs can be expected to face a heavier workload in the future.