Methods. Data were obtained from a primary-care medical registration network. All patients aged epsilon 18 years with new shoulder complaints who consulted their general practitioner in 1998 were included, and were followed 10 years beyond the initial consultation.
Results. A total of 526 incident cases were identified (average age 47 years, 65% women and average follow-up 7.6 years). Nearly half of the patients consulted their GP only once. For 79% of those patients, a wait-and-see policy or a prescription for NSAIDs sufficed. During follow-up, 65% of all patients were prescribed medication. Medication consumption was significantly higher among men than women, and higher for the 45- to 64-year age group compared with the younger group. A total of 199 patients were referred, of which 84% was to a physiotherapist and 16% to secondary care. Only two patients had surgery, performed by an orthopaedic surgeon. The GP recorded a diagnosis in only 14% of patients; rotator cuff disorder being the most common.
Conclusions. Nearly half of patients with a new shoulder complaint consult their GP only once. Medical consumption in general practice is highest for male shoulder patients and the 45- to 64-year age group. Shoulder problems are mainly an issue for primary care.