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Prevalence and patterns of multimorbidity in Australia

Helena C Britt, Christopher M Harrison, Graeme C Miller and Stephanie A Knox
Med J Aust 2008; 189 (2): 72-77.

Summary

Objectives: To estimate the prevalence and patterns of multimorbidity in a sample of patients attending general practice, in the population who attended general practice in 2005, and in the Australian population.

Design, setting and participants: Secondary analyses of data from a study of prevalence of selected conditions (a substudy of the BEACH [Bettering the Evaluation And Care of Health] program); data were provided by 305 general practitioners for 9156 patients seen in July–November 2005, based on knowledge of the patient, patient self-report, and medical records. Listed conditions were classified according to the Cumulative Illness Rating Scale morbidity domains.

Main outcome measures: Prevalence of morbidity in each domain; prevalence of specific patterns of multimorbidity (defined as presence of morbidity in two or more domains).

Results: Prevalence of multimorbidity was estimated as 37.1% of surveyed patients, 29.0% of people who attended a GP in 2005, and 25.5% of the Australian population. Prevalence and complexity (number of domains present) increased with age: 83.2% of surveyed patients aged 75 years or older had multimorbidity, 58.2% had morbidity in three or more domains, and 33.4% in four or more. Prevalence of multimorbidity did not differ between the sexes. The most common morbidity combinations were arthritis/chronic back pain + vascular disease (15.0% of sample), a psychological problem + vascular disease (10.6%) and arthritis/chronic back pain + a psychological problem (10.6%). We estimate that 10.6% of people attending a GP in 2005 and 9.3% of the population have arthritis/chronic back pain + vascular disease (± other morbidity types studied), and this group accounted for about 15.2 million Medicare-claimed general practice encounters in 2005.

Conclusions: This study provides the first insight into prevalence and patterns of multimorbidity in Australia. Knowledge of the common combinations of multimorbidity may help in planning the health services needed in the future by an ageing population with an increasing burden of multimorbidity.

  • Helena C Britt1
  • Christopher M Harrison2
  • Graeme C Miller3
  • Stephanie A Knox4

  • Family Medicine Research Centre, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.

Correspondence: helenab@med.usyd.edu.au

Acknowledgements: 

We thank the GPs who participated in the substudy, and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing for supplying Medicare claims data used for adjustments. During the data collection period of this substudy, the BEACH program was funded by the National Prescribing Service, AstraZeneca, Roche Products, Janssen–Cilag, Merck Sharp and Dohme, Pfizer Australia, the Office of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (Australian Government Department of Employment and Workplace Relations) and the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Competing interests:

The funding organisations had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation, or the writing and publication of this report.

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