There are no competing interests to declare.
LJ participated in the design of the study, oversaw data analysis and drafted the manuscript. LS and KR participated in the design of the study, performed the statistical analysis and helped to draft the manuscript. FB participated in the design of the study, oversaw data analysis and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Available evidence suggests that smokers have a lower propensity than others to use primary care services. But previous studies have incorporated only limited adjustment for confounding and mediating factors such as income, access to services and health status. We used data from a large prospective cohort study (the 45 and Up Study), linked to administrative claims data, to quantify the relationship between smoking status and use of primary care services, including specific preventive services, in a contemporary Australian population.
Baseline questionnaire data from the 45 and Up Study were linked to administrative claims (Medicare) data for the 12-month period following study entry. The main outcome measures were Medicare benefit claimed for unreferred services, out-of-pocket costs (OOPC) paid, and claims for specific preventive services (immunisations, health assessments, chronic disease management services, PSA tests and Pap smears). Rate ratios with 95% confidence intervals were estimated using a hierarchical series of models, adjusted for predisposing, access- and health-related factors. Separate hurdle (two part) regression models were constructed for Medicare benefit and OOPC. Poisson models with robust error variance were used to model use of each specific preventive service.
Participants included 254,382 people aged 45 years and over of whom 7.3% were current smokers. After adjustment for predisposing, access- and health-related factors, current smokers were very slightly less likely to have claimed Medicare benefit than never smokers. Among those who claimed benefit, current smokers claimed similar total benefit, but recent quitters claimed significantly greater benefit, compared to never-smokers. Current smokers were around 10% less likely than never smokers to have paid any OOPC. Current smokers were 15-20% less likely than never smokers to use immunisations, Pap smears and prostate specific antigen tests.
Current smokers were less likely than others to use primary care services that incurred out of pocket costs, and specific preventive services. This was independent of a wide range of predisposing, access- and health-related factors, suggesting that smokers have a lower propensity to seek health care. Smokers may be missing out on preventive services from which they would differentially benefit.