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Background: Comorbidity is increasingly common in primary care. The cost implications for patient care and budgetary management are unclear. Aim: To investigate whether caring for patients with specific disease combinations increases or decreases primary care costs compared with treating separate patients with one condition each. Design: Retrospective observational study using data on 86 100 patients in the General Practice Research Database. Method: Annual primary care cost was estimated for each patient including consultations, medication, and investigations. Patients with comorbidity were defined as those with a current diagnosis of more than one chronic condition in the Quality and Outcomes Framework. Multiple regression modelling was used to identify, for three age groups, disease combinations that increase (cost-increasing) or decrease (cost-limiting) cost compared with treating each condition separately. Results: Twenty per cent of patients had at least two chronic conditions. All conditions were found to be both cost-increasing and cost-limiting when co-occurring with other conditions except dementia, which is only cost-limiting. Depression is the most important costincreasing condition when co-occurring with a range of conditions. Hypertension is costlimiting, particularly when co-occurring with other cardiovascular conditions. Conclusion: Three categories of comorbidity emerge, those that are: cost-increasing, mainly due to a combination of depression with physical comorbidity; cost-limiting because treatment for the conditions overlap; and cost-limiting for no apparent reason but possibly because of inadequate care. These results can contribute to efficient and effective management of chronic conditions in primary care. Keywords: comorbidity; costs and cost analysis; delivery of health care; depression; family practice; resource allocation.


Journal article


British Journal of General Practice

Publication Date


Total pages



Sandra Hollinghurst, Centre for Academic, Primary Care, School of Social and Community, Medicine, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall,, Whatley Road, Bristol, BS8 2PS, UK., E-mail:


comorbidity; costs and cost analysis; delivery of health care; depression; family practice; resource allocation.