University of Oulu

Frequent attenders in primary health care : a cross-sectional study of frequent attenders' psychosocial and family factors, chronic diseases and reasons for encounter in a Finnish health centre

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Author: Jyväsjärvi, Simo1,2,3,4
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health Science and General Practice
2Health Centre of Oulainen
3Oulu University Hospital, Unit of General Practice
4University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.2 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2001
Publish Date: 2001-07-30
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Auditorium 1 of the Institute of Dentistry (Aapistie 3), on September 7th, 2001, at 12 noon.
Reviewer: Professor Jussi Kauhanen
Professor Ville Lehtinen


The aim of this cross-sectional controlled study was to determine frequent attenders' chronic diseases and their reasons for encounter in primary health care. Furthermore, the study aimed to determine the associations of social, psychological and family factors with frequent attendance in a Finnish health centre.

Patients who made eight or more annual visits to physicians in the health centre during one year were defined as frequent attenders (FA). All the FAs during 1994 (N=304) and 304 randomly selected age- and sex-matched controls constituted the study population. The data were collected from annual statistics, medical records and postal questionnaires. Over one third of the study population was interviewed. International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC) was used to determine the reasons for encounter and Symptom Checklist - 36 (SCL-36) to assess the psychological distress. Toronto Alexithymia Scale -20 (TAS-20) was used as a measure of alexithymia and Whiteley Index (WI) to determine hypochondriacal beliefs.

The results showed that 4.7% of the whole population aged 15 years or older in Oulainen were FAs. They accounted for 23.5% of all visits made within the respective age group. The mean age of the FAs was 49.8 years. Over two thirds of them were female. The FAs had lower basic education and occupational status than the controls. The FAs visited physicians in the health centre mostly for reasons related to the musculoskeletal, respiratory and digestive systems. There appeared to be more chronic diseases among the FAs than among the controls. The FAs had over three times more mental disorders than the controls.

The interviewed FAs had significantly more psychological distress, somatization and hypochondriacal beliefs than the controls. The risk of frequent attendance was higher in the older family life cycle phases than in the younger family life cycle phases. Multivariate analyses showed chronic somatic disease and hypochondriacal beliefs to be risk factors for frequent attendance. Concurrence of somatization and hypochondriacal beliefs increased the risk to be a FA.

As a conclusion, the results emphasize the need to consider the FAs' own bodily concerns expressed as hypochondriacal beliefs when managing them. Furthermore, the study implicates a need to integrate the biomedical, psychological and social dimensions in the care of FAs in primary health care.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. D, Medica
ISSN-E: 1796-2234
ISBN: 951-42-6446-0
ISBN Print: 951-42-6445-2
Issue: 639
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2001. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.