Why do they keep coming back? Psychosocial etiology of persistence of frequent attendance in primary care: a prospective cohort study

J Psychosom Res. 2014 Dec;77(6):492-503. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2014.08.003. Epub 2014 Aug 21.


Background: Patients who visit their General Practitioner (GP) very frequently over extended periods of time often have multimorbidity and are costly in primary and specialist healthcare. We investigated the impact of patient-level psychosocial and GP-level factors on the persistence of frequent attendance (FA) in primary care.

Methods: Two-year prospective cohort study in 623 incident adult frequent attenders (>90th attendance centile; age and sex-adjusted) in 2009. Information was collected through questionnaires (patients, GPs) and GPs' patient data. We used multilevel, ordinal logistic regression analysis, controlling for somatic illness and demographic factors with FA in 2010 and/or 2011 as the outcome.

Results: Other anxiety (odds ratio (OR) 2.00; 95% confidence interval from 1.29 to 3.10) over 3years and the number of life events in 3years (OR 1.06; 1.01-1.10 per event; range of 0 to 12) and, at baseline, panic disorder (OR 5.40; 1.67-17.48), other anxiety (OR 2.78; 1.04-7.46), illness behavior (OR 1.13; 1.05-1.20 per point; 28-point scale) and lack of mastery (OR 1.08; 1.01-1.15 per point; 28-point scale) were associated with persistence of FA. We found no evidence of synergistic effects of somatic, psychological and social problems. We found no strong evidence of effects of GP characteristics.

Conclusion: Panic disorder, other anxiety, negative life events, illness behavior and lack of mastery are independently associated with persistence of frequent attendance. Effective intervention at these factors, apart from their intrinsic benefits to these patients, may reduce attendance rates, and healthcare expenditures in primary and specialist care.

Keywords: (persistent) Frequent attender; Anxiety disorders; Cohort study; Depressive disorder; Etiology; General Practitioner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Panic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors