A survey of frequent attenders at a gastroenterology clinic.
Bass C., Hyde G., Bond A., Sharpe M.
OBJECTIVE: To examine a group of patients satisfying criteria for "frequent attending" as part of an audit of an outpatient gastroenterology service, and to note the prevalence of those with no conspicuous organic disease to account for their symptomatology. METHODS: We used the hospital computer (Oxford Patient Administration System, OXPAS) to identify 2530 consecutive patients who were given an appointment to attend the gastroenterology clinic during an 11-month period. Patients designated "frequent attenders" had their notes flagged before the clinic attendance and were examined in more detail. A frequent attender was defined as a patient who had attended any hospital outpatient clinic in the three Oxford general hospitals on four or more occasions in the previous 12 months. The gastroenterologist then interviewed the patients satisfying these criteria and indicated whether he/she was satisfied that there was no relevant organic disease to account for the symptoms. RESULTS: Of the total 2530 patients, 762 (30%) satisfied our criteria for frequent attendance (FA). Of these, 452 (59%) had organic disease, 128 (17%) either did not attend or cancelled and 159 (21%) had no relevant organic disease. The diagnosis was uncertain in 23 patients (3%). Of patients satisfying our criteria for frequent attending, approximately 20-25% had no established gastroenterological disease. CONCLUSIONS: Frequent attenders present formidable management problems for the gastroenterologist. If they can be identified by computer before the outpatient visit then assessment and management might be more appropriately supervised in designated clinics by more experienced gastroenterology staff.