Open Access Research article

Socioeconomic variation in the burden of chronic conditions and health care provision – analyzing administrative individual level data from the Basque Country, Spain

Juan F Orueta12*, Arturo García-Álvarez3, Edurne Alonso-Morán1, Laura Vallejo-Torres456 and Roberto Nuño-Solinis1

Author affiliations

1 Oberri (The Basque Institute for Health Innovation), Sondika, Bizkaia, Spain

2 Centro de Salud de Astrabudua, Osakidetza (The Basque Health Service), Erandio, Bizkaia, Spain

3 Kronikgune (The International Centre of Excellence in Research into Chronicity), Bilbao, Bizkaia, Spain

4 Clinical Trials Unit, University College London, London, UK

5 Departamento de Economía de las Instituciones, Estadística Económica y Econometría, Universidad de la Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

6 Centro de Investigaciones Biomédicas de Canarias (CIBICAN), Tenerife, Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:870  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-870

Published: 22 September 2013



Chronic diseases are posing an increasing challenge to society, with the associated burden falling disproportionally on more deprived individuals and geographical areas. Although the existence of a socioeconomic health gradient is one of the main concerns of health policy across the world, health information systems commonly do not have reliable data to detect and monitor health inequalities and inequities. The objectives of this study were to measure the level of socioeconomic-related inequality in prevalence of chronic diseases and to investigate the extent and direction of inequities in health care provision.


A dataset linking clinical and administrative information of the entire population living in the Basque Country, Spain (over 2 million individuals) was used to measure the prevalence of 52 chronic conditions and to quantify individual health care costs. We used a concentration-index approach to measure the extent and direction of inequality with respect to the deprivation of the area of residence of each individual.


Most chronic diseases were found to be disproportionally concentrated among individuals living in more deprived areas, but the extent of the imbalance varies by type of disease and sex. Most of the variation in health care utilization was explained by morbidity burden. However, even after accounting for differences in morbidity, pro-poor horizontal inequity was present in specialized outpatient care, emergency department, prescription, and primary health care costs and this fact was more apparent in females than males; inpatient costs exhibited an equitable distribution in both sexes.


Analyses of comprehensive administrative clinical information at the individual level allow the socioeconomic gradient in chronic diseases and health care provision to be measured to a level of detail not possible using other sources. This frequently updated source of information can be exploited to monitor trends and evaluate the impact of policy reforms.