Open Access Research article

Unique health care utilization patterns in a homeless population in Ghent

Evelyn Verlinde*, Tine Verdée, Mieke Van de Walle, Bruno Art, Jan De Maeseneer and Sara Willems

Author Affiliations

Department of General Practice and Primary Healthcare, Ghent University, Belgium

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:242  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-242

Published: 19 August 2010



Existing studies concerning the health care use of homeless people describe higher utilisation rates for hospital-based care and emergency care, and lower rates for primary care by homeless people compared to the general population. Homeless people are importantly hindered and/or steered in their health care use by barriers directly related to the organisation of care. Our goal is to describe the accessibility of primary health care services, secondary care and emergency care for homeless people living in an area with a universal primary health care system and active guidance towards this unique system.


Observational, cross-sectional study design. Data from the Belgian National health survey were merged with comparable data collected by means of a face-to-face interview from homeless people in Ghent. 122 homeless people who made use of homeless centres and shelters in Ghent were interviewed using a reduced version of the Belgian National Health survey over a period of 5 months. 2-dimensional crosstabs were built in order to study the bivariate relationship between health care use (primary health care, secondary and emergency care) and being homeless. To determine the independent association, a logistic model was constructed adjusting for age and sex.

Results and Discussion

Homeless people have a higher likelihood to consult a GP than the non-homeless people in Ghent, even after adjusting for age and sex. The same trend is demonstrated for secondary and emergency care.


Homeless people in Ghent do find the way to primary health care and make use of it. It seems that the universal primary health care system in Ghent with an active guidance by social workers contributes to easier GP access.