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Occasional and persistent frequent attenders and sickness absences in occupational health primary care: a longitudinal study in Finland

08 Feb 2019


Frequent attenders (FAs) create a substantial portion of primary care workload but little is known about FAs’ sickness absences. The aim of the study is to investigate how occasional and persistent frequent attendance is associated with sickness absences among the working population in occupational health (OH) primary care.

Setting and participants

This is a longitudinal study using medical record data (2014–2016) from an OH care provider in Finland. In total, 59 676 patients were included and categorised into occasional and persistent FAs or non-FAs. Sick-leave episodes and their lengths were collected along with associated diagnostic codes. Logistic regression was used to analyse associations between FA status and sick leaves of different lengths (1–3, 4–14 and ≥15 days).


Both occasional and persistent FA had more and longer duration of sick leave than non-FA through the study years. Persistent FAs had consistently high absence rates. Occasional FAs had elevated absence rates even 2 years after their frequent attendance period. Persistent FAs (OR=11 95% CI 7.54 to 16.06 in 2016) and occasional FAs (OR=2.95 95% CI 2.50 to 3.49 in 2016) were associated with long (≥15 days) sickness absence when compared with non-FAs. Both groups of FAs had an increased risk of long-term sick leaves indicating a risk of disability pension.


Both occasional and persistent FAs should be identified in primary care units caring for working-age patients. As frequent attendance is associated with long sickness absences and possibly disability pensions, rehabilitation should be directed at this group to prevent work disability.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open