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BMC Fam Pract 9:63.
Lund University, Department of Clinical Sciences in Malmö, General Practice/Family Medicine, Malmö, Sweden
BACKGROUND: Lithuanian primary health care (PHC) is undergoing changes from the systems prevalent under the Soviet Union, which ensured free access to specialised health care. Currently four different PHC models work in parallel, which offers the opportunity to study their respective effect on referral rates. Our aim was to investigate whether there were differences in referrals rates from different Lithuanian PHC models in Klaipeda after adjustment for co-morbidity.
METHODS: The population listed with 18 PHC practices serving inhabitants in Klaipeda city and region (250,070 inhabitants). Four PHC models: rural state-owned family medicine practices, urban privately owned family medicine practices, state-owned polyclinics and privately owned polyclinics. Information on listed patients and referrals during 2005 from each PHC practice in Klaipeda was obtained from the Lithuanian State Sickness Fund database. The database records included information on age, gender, PHC model, referrals and ICD 10 diagnoses. The Johns Hopkins ACG Case-Mix system was used to study co-morbidity. Referral rates from different PHC models were studied using Poisson regression models.
RESULTS: Patients listed with rural state-owned family medicine practices had a significantly lower referral rate to specialised health care than those in the other three PHC models. An increasing co-morbidity level correlated with a higher physician- to self-referral ratio.
CONCLUSION: Family medicine practices located in rural-, but not in urban areas had significantly lower referral rates to specialised health care. It could not be established whether this was due to organisation, training of physicians or financing, but suggests there is room for improving primary health care in urban areas. Patient’s place of residence and co morbidity level were the most important factors for referral rate. We also found that gatekeeping had an effect on the referral pattern with respect to co-morbidity level, so that those with a physician referral were more likely to have had higher co-morbidity.
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