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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The importance of job characteristics in determining medical care-seeking in the Dutch working population, a longitudinal survey study

Romy Steenbeek

Author Affiliations

TNO Work and Health, PO Box 718,, 2130, AS, Hoofddorp, The Netherlands

BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:294  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-294

Published: 31 August 2012



The working population is ageing, which will increase the number of workers with chronic health complaints, and, as a consequence, the number of workers seeking health care. It is very important to understand factors that influence medical care-seeking in order to control the costs. I will investigate which work characteristics independently attribute to later care-seeking in order to find possibilities to prevent unnecessary or inefficient care-seeking.


Data were collected in a longitudinal two-wave study (nā€‰=ā€‰2305 workers). The outcome measures were visits (yes/no and frequency) to a general practitioner (GP), a physical therapist, a medical specialist and/or a mental health professional. Multivariate regression analyses were carried out separately for men and women for workers with health complaints.


In the Dutch working population, personal, health, and work characteristics, but not sickness absence, were associated with later care-seeking. Work characteristics independently attributed to medical care-seeking but only for men and only for the frequency of visits to the GP. Women experience more health complaints and seek health care more often than men. For women, experiencing a work handicap (health complaints that impede work performance) was the only work characteristic associated with more care-seeking (GP). For men, work characteristics that led to less care-seeking were social support by colleagues (GP frequency), high levels of decision latitude (GP frequency) and high levels of social support by the supervisor (medical specialist). Other work characteristics led to more care-seeking: high levels of engagement (GP), full time work (GP frequency) and experiencing a work handicap (physical therapist).


We can conclude that personal and health characteristics are most important when explaining medical care-seeking in the Dutch working population. Work characteristics independently attributed to medical care-seeking but only for men and only for the frequency of visits to the GP. The association between work characteristics and later medical care-seeking differed between health care providers and between men and women. If we aim at reducing health care costs for workers by preventing unnecessary or inefficient care, it is important to reduce the number of workers that report that health complaints impede their work performance. The supervisor could provide more social support, closely monitor workload in combination with work pressure and decision latitude, and when possible help to adjust working conditions. Health care providers could reduce medical costs by taking the work relatedness of health complaints into account and act accordingly, by decreasing the time to referral and waiting lists, and by providing appropriate care and avoiding unnecessary or harmful care.