Understanding the inverse care law: a register and survey-based study of patient deprivation and burnout in general practice

Int J Equity Health. 2014 Dec 12:13:121. doi: 10.1186/s12939-014-0121-3.


Introduction: According to the inverse care law, there is a mismatch between patients' medical needs and medical care supply. As an example, the number of doctors is often lower in areas with high deprivation compared to areas with no deprivation, and doctors with a deprived patient population may experience a high work pressure, have insufficient time for comprehensive tasks and be at higher risk for developing burnout. The mechanisms responsible for the inverse care law might be mutually reinforcing, but we know very little about this process. In this study, the association between patient deprivation and burnout in the general practitioners (GPs) was examined.

Methods: Active GPs in the Central Denmark Region were invited to participate in a survey on job satisfaction and burnout and 601 GPs returned the questionnaire (72%). The Danish Regions provided information about which persons were registered with each practice, and information concerning socioeconomic characteristics for each patient on the list was obtained from Statistics Denmark. A composite deprivation index was also used.

Results: There was significantly more burnout among GPs in the highest quartile of the deprivation index compared to GPs in the lowest quartile (OR: 1.91; 95% CI: 1.06-3.44; p-value: 0.032). Among the eight variables included in the deprivation index, a high share of patients on social benefits was most strongly associated with burnout (OR: 2.62; 95% CI: 1.45-4.71; p-value: 0.001).

Conclusions: A higher propensity of GP burnout was found among GPs with a high share of deprived patients on their lists compared to GPs with a low share of deprived patients. This applied in particular to patients on social benefits. This indicates that beside lower supply of GPs in deprived areas, people in these areas may also be served by GPs who are in higher risk of burnout and not performing optimally.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology*
  • Burnout, Professional / etiology
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Female
  • General Practice / statistics & numerical data
  • General Practitioners / psychology*
  • General Practitioners / supply & distribution
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires