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Article |

Association Between Child Behavior Problems and Frequent Physician Visits

Barry Zuckerman, MD; Kristin A. Moore, PhD; Dana Glei, MA
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150(2):146-153. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1996.02170270028004.
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Objective:  To determine the association between parent-reported behavior problems and health care utilization, especially among physically healthy children.

Design:  Analysis of data from the 1988 National Health Interviews Survey—Child Health Supplement. The sample for analysis consisted of 11 840 children aged 5 to 17 years. The independent measure of primary interest are behavior problems as measured by the Behavior Problems Index. For the bivariate analysis, children in the lowest quartile, highest quartile and middle half were compared. For the multivariate analysis, children in the highest quartile with behavior problems were compared with all other children.

Main Outcome Measures:  The number of reported physician visits in the past year and the past 2 weeks, Two common behavior syndromes—antisocial and depressed or anxious—were analyzed separately to determine whether a specific type of behavior problem was associated with frequent health care utilization.

Results:  Eighteen percent of the children aged 5 to 17 years had four or more health visits during the past year, and 2% had two or more visits during the past 2 weeks. Children in the top quartile for parent-reported behavior problems were more likely to have four or more physician visits than children in the middle half and bottom quartile. Children reported to be in "excellent," "very good," or "good" health who were in the top quartile of behavior problems were more likely to report four or more physician visits during the past year, but no statistically significant differences were seen among children reported to be in "fair" or "poor" health. Controling for confounding variables, children in the top quartile of the Behavior Problems Index are significantly more likely to report four or more visits during the past year and two or more visits during the past 2 weeks compared with other children. Anxious or depressed and antisocial subscales of the Behavior Problems Index showed independent and significant associations with four or more physician visits in the past year.

Conclusion:  Children with parent-reported behavior problems are likely to have more frequent physician visits compared with children without behavior problems, even when confounding sociodemographic and health status variables are controlled. The association is concentrated among physically healthy children.(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150:146-153)

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