Longitudinal cohort study describing persistent frequent attenders in Australian primary healthcare

Carly Pymont, Peter Butterworth

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38 Citations (Scopus)
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Objectives: To describe patterns of frequent attendance in Australian primary care, and identify the prospective risk factors for persistent frequent attendance. Design, setting and participants: This study draws on data from the Personality and Total Health (PATH) Through Life Project, a representative community cohort study of residents from the Canberra region of Australia. Participants were assessed on 3 occasions over 8 years. The survey assessed respondents' experience of chronic physical conditions, self-reported health, symptoms of common mental disorders, personality, life events, sociodemographic characteristics and self-reported medication use. A balanced sample was used in analysis, comprising 1734 respondents with 3 waves of data. The survey data for each respondent were individually linked to their administrative health service use data which were used to generate an objective measure of general practitioner (GP) consultations in the 12 months surrounding their interview date. Main outcome measures: Respondents in the (approximate) highest decile of attenders on number of GP consultations over a 12-month period at each time point were defined as frequent attenders (FAs). Results: Baseline FAs (8.4%) were responsible for 33.4% of baseline consultations, while persistent FAs (3.6%) for 15.5% of all consultations over the 3 occasions. While there was considerable movement between FA status over time, consistency was greater than expected by chance alone. While there were many factors that differentiated non-FAs from FAs in general, persistent frequent attendance was specifically associated with gender, baseline reports of depression, self-reported physical conditions and disability, and medication use. Conclusions: The degree of persistence in GP consultations was limited. The findings of this study contribute to our understanding of the risk factors that predict subsequent persistent frequent attendance in primary care. However, further detailed investigation of longitudinal patterns of frequent attendance and consideration of time-varying determinants of frequent attendance is required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number008975
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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