Bénédicte Lurquin, Nadir Kellou, Cyrille Colin, Laurent Letrilliart.
Introduction: In various countries, a shortage of general practitioners (GPs) and worrying health statistics on risk factors, morbidity and mortality have been observed in rural areas. However, few comparative data are available on GP activities according to their location. The aim of this study was to analyse French GP activities according to their rural or urban practice location.
Methods: This study was ancillary to the Eléments de la COnsultation en médecine GENérale (ECOGEN) study, which was a cross-sectional, multicentre, national study conducted in 128 French general practices in 2012. Data were collected by 54 interns in training during a period of 20 working days from December 2011 to April 2012. GP practice location was classified as rural area, urban cluster or urban area. The International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC-2) was used to classify reasons for encounter, health problem assessments, and processes of care. Univariate analyses were performed for all dependent variables, then multivariable analyses for key variables, using hierarchical mixed-effect models.
Results: The database included 20 613 consultations. The mean yearly number of consultations per GP was higher in rural areas (p<0.0001), with a shorter consultation length (p<0.0001). No difference was found for GP sex (p=0.41), age (p=0.87), type of fees agreement (p=0.43), and type of practice (p=0.19) according to their practice location. Urban patients were younger, and there was a lower percentage of patients over 75 years (p<0.001). GPs more frequently consulted at patients' homes in rural areas (p<0.0001). The mean number of chronic conditions managed was higher in rural areas and urban clusters than in urban areas (p<0001). Hypertension (p<0.0001), type 2 diabetes (p=0.003), and acute bronchitis/bronchiolitis (p=0.01) were more frequently managed in rural areas than in urban clusters and areas. Health maintenance/prevention (p<0.0001) and no disease situations (p<0.0001) were less frequent in rural areas. Drug prescription was more frequent in rural areas than in urban clusters and areas (p<0.0001). Multivariable analysis confirmed the influence of a GP's rural practice location on the consultation length (p<0.0001), the number of chronic conditions per consultation (p<0.0001) and the number of health maintenance/prevention situations (p<0.0001), and a trend towards a higher yearly number of consultations per GP (p=0.09).
Conclusion: French rural GPs tend to have a higher workload than urban GPs. Rural patients have more chronic conditions to be managed but are offered fewer preventive services during consultations. It is necessary to increase the GP workforce and develop cooperation with allied health professionals in rural areas.