Loneliness in Primary Care Patients: A Prevalence Study

Ann Fam Med. 2019 Mar;17(2):108-115. doi: 10.1370/afm.2358.


Purpose: Loneliness has important health consequences. Little is known, however, about loneliness in primary care patient populations. This study describes the prevalence of loneliness in patients presenting for primary care and associations with self-reported demographic factors, health care utilization, and health-related quality of life.

Methods: We conducted cross-sectional surveys of adults presenting for routine care to outpatient primary care practices in 2 diverse practice-based research networks. The 3-item University of California, Los Angeles Loneliness Scale was utilized to determine loneliness.

Results: The prevalence of loneliness was 20% (246/1,235). Loneliness prevalence was inversely associated with age (P <.01) and less likely in those who were married (P <.01) or employed (P <.01). Loneliness was more common in those with lower health status (P <.01), including when adjusting for employment and relationship status (odds ratio [OR] = 1.05; 95% CI, 1.03-1.07). Primary care visits (OR = 1.07; 95% CI, 1.03-1.10), urgent care/emergency department visits (OR = 1.24; 95% CI, 1.12-1.38), and hospitalizations (OR = 1.15; 95% CI, 1.01-1.31) were associated with loneliness status. There was no significant difference in rates of loneliness between sexes (P = .08), racial categories (P = .57), or rural and urban respondents (P = .42).

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that loneliness is common in primary care patients and is associated with adverse health consequences including poorer health status and greater health care utilization. Further work is needed to understand the value of screening for and using interventions to treat loneliness in primary care.

Keywords: 3-item UCLA Loneliness Scale; loneliness; prevalence; primary care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Status
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Loneliness*
  • Male
  • Marital Status / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult