The number of cancer patients and the number of patients surviving initial treatments is expected to rise. Traditionally, follow-up monitoring takes place in secondary care. The contribution of general practice is less visible and not clearly defined.
This study aimed to compare healthcare use in general practice of patients with cancer during the follow-up phase compared with patients without cancer. We also examined the influence of comorbid conditions on healthcare utilisation by these patients in general practice.
We compared health care use of N=8,703 cancer patients with an age and gender-matched control group of patients without cancer from the same practice. Data originate from the Netherlands Information Network of General Practice (LINH), a representative network consisting of 92 general practices with 350,000 enlisted patients. Health care utilisation was assessed using data on contacts with general practice, prescription and referral rates recorded between 1/1/2001 and 31/12/2007. The existence of additional comorbid chronic conditions (ICPC coded) was taken into account.
Compared to matched controls, cancer patients had more contacts with their GP-practice (19.5 vs. 11.9, p<.01), more consultations with the GP (3.5 vs. 2.7, p<.01), more home visits (1.6 vs. 0.4, p<.01) and they got more medicines prescribed (18.7 vs. 11.6, p<.01) during the follow-up phase. Cancer patients more often had a chronic condition than their matched controls (52% vs. 44%, p<.01). Having a chronic condition increased health care use for both patients with and without cancer. Cancer patients with a comorbid condition had the highest health care use.
We found that cancer patients in the follow-up phase consulted general practice more often and suffered more often from comorbid chronic conditions, compared to patients without cancer. It is expected that the number of cancer patients will rise in the years to come and that primary health care professionals will be more involved in follow-up care. Care for comorbid chronic conditions, communication between specialists and GPs, and coordination of tasks then need special attention.