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Open Access Research article

Socio-economic inequalities in health care utilisation in Norway: a population based cross-sectional survey

Anne Helen Hansen1*, Peder A Halvorsen2, Unni Ringberg3 and Olav Helge Førde3

Author affiliations

1 National Centre for Integrated Care and Telemedicine, University Hospital of Northern Norway, PO box 35, 9038, Tromsø, Norway

2 National Centre of Rural Medicine and General Practice Research Unit, Department of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway

3 Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway

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Citation and License

BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:336  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-336

Published: 25 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Norway provides universal health care coverage to all residents, but socio-economic inequalities in health are among the largest in Europe. Evidence on inequalities in health care utilisation is sparse, and the aim of this population based study was to investigate socio-economic inequalities in the utilisation of health care services in Tromsø, Norway.

Methods

We used questionnaire data from the cross-sectional Tromsø Study, conducted in 2007–8. All together 12,982 persons aged 30–87 years participated with the response rate of 65.7%. This is slightly more than one third of the total population (33.8%) in the mentioned age group in Tromsø municipality. By logistic regression analyses we studied associations between household income, education and self-rated occupational status and the utilisation of general practitioner, somatic and psychiatric specialist outpatient services. The outcome variables were probability and frequency of use during the previous 12 months. Analyses were stratified by gender and adjusted for age, marital status, and self-rated health.

Results

Self-rated health was the dominant predictor of health care utilisation. Women’s probability of visiting a general practitioner did not vary by socio-economic status, but high income was associated with less frequent use (odds ratio [OR] for trend 0.89, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.81-0.98). In men, high income predicted lower probability and frequency of general practitioner utilisation (OR for trend 0.85, CI 0.76-0.94, and 0.86, 0.78-0.95, respectively). Women’s probability of visiting a somatic specialist increased with higher income (OR for trend 1.11, CI 1.01-1.21) and higher education (OR for trend 1.27, CI 1.16-1.39). We found the same trends for men, though significant only for education (OR for trend 1.14, CI 1.05-1.25). The likelihood of visiting psychiatric specialist services increased with higher education and decreased with higher income in women (OR for trend 1.57, CI 1.24-1.98, and 0.69, 0.56-0.86, respectively), but did not vary significantly by socio-economic variables in men. Higher income predicted more frequent use of psychiatric specialist services in men (OR for trend 2.02, CI 1.12-3.63).

Conclusions

This study revealed important inequalities in the utilisation of health care services in Norway, inequalities which may contribute to sustaining inequalities in health outcomes.

Keywords:
Cross-sectional study; Socio-economic inequalities; Health care utilisation; General practitioner; Somatic specialist; Psychiatric specialist; Norway