Original Articles

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 47-51

Healthy patients who perceive poor health and their use of primary care services

  • Julia E. ConnellyAffiliated withDivision of General Internal Medicine, the University of Virginia School of Medicine
  • , G. Richard SmithAffiliated withthe Departments of Psychiatry and Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
  • , John T. PhilbrickAffiliated withDivision of General Internal Medicine, the University of Virginia School of Medicine
  • , Donald L. KaiserAffiliated withthe Division of Information Science and Biostatistics, University of Virginia School of Medicine

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Objective:To determine what proportion of patients who have poor health perceptions are physically healthy and to explore why some patients perceive a healthy state while others perceive illness.

Design:A prospective consecutive series of office patients completed the Rand Corporation’s General Health Perceptions Questionnaire, and their physicians rated their physical health. Their use of health care services was determined for the following 12 months.

Setting:A rural teaching office practice.

Patients:Of 243 adult patients asked to complete the questionnaire, 32 were excluded, for dementia (8), illiteracy (4), illness (8), incomplete questionnaires (6), and other reasons (6). 208 patients (86%) formed the final study group.

Measurements and main results:62 of 208 patients had poor health perception scores. 39 of the 62 were rated by physicians as physically healthy and were not statistically different in physical health ratings or numbers of prescribed medications from the 146 patients who had higher health perception scores. However, these 39 patients had significantly more health-related worry, acute pain, and depression than did the other 146 patients. They also made more office visits and telephone calls and had higher total primary care charges.

Conclusions:This study suggests that 21% of adult primary care patients (39 of 208) have health perceptions lower than expected for their levels of physical health. These low health perceptions are correlated with increased emotional distress and higher utilization of health care resources. Strategies to identify these patients and interventions to improve their views of their health could reduce utilization.

Key words

health perceptions utilization health status assessment functional health