Healthcare activities statistics - consultations

Data extracted in November 2019.

Planned article update: November 2020.

Highlights

People in Hungary and Slovakia made an average of 10.9 visits to consult a medical doctor during the course of 2017 — the only EU Member States with double-digit values.

People in the Netherlands made an average of 2.8 visits to a dentist during the course of 2017 — the highest ratio among the EU Member States.

In 2017, the average person in Denmark, Romania and Cyprus made no more than 0.5 visits to a dentist during the course of the year — the lowest ratios among the EU Member States.

Consultation of a medical doctor, 2017

This article presents an overview of European Union (EU) statistics related to consultations of medical professionals, in particular the consultation of doctors, dentists, psychologists, psychotherapists and physiotherapists.

This article is one of a set of statistical articles concerning healthcare activities in the EU which forms part of an online publication on health statistics.


Full article

Consultations of doctors

Statistics on the average number of consultations that people have with a physician includes consultations at the physician’s office, in the patient’s home, or in out-patient departments of hospitals or ambulatory health care centres. These figures exclude consultations/visits during a treatment as part of in-patient or day care patient care in a hospital or similar institution.

Among the EU Member States, there is a wide range in the frequency with which medical doctors are consulted. In Cyprus and Sweden, people consulted physicians, on average, less than 3.0 times during 2017, with the average number of consultations generally ranging between 4.3 and 10.0 in most EU Member States (no recent data for Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal or the United Kingdom). The highest frequencies for consulting physicians were recorded in Slovakia and Hungary, where the average during 2017 was 10.9 consultations per person.

Between 2012 and 2017, the average number of consultations increased in almost half (10) of the 22 EU Member States for which data are available (see Figure 1 for data availability); the largest increases (in relative terms) were recorded for the Netherlands (note there is a break in series), Lithuania, Czechia and Poland. Declines were registered in 12 Member States, most notably in Denmark, France (2012-2016; note there is a break in series), Latvia and Cyprus (where the largest reduction in relative terms was recorded, -14.3 %).

Figure 1: Consultation of a medical doctor, 2012 and 2017
(average number of consultations per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_hc_phys)

The proportion of the population who had consulted general practitioners was generally higher than for specialist medical practitioners

Figures 2 and 3 present self-reported data on consultations from the second wave of the European health interview survey (EHIS); this was conducted between 2013 and 2015. Both Figures 2 and 3 show the percentage of the population aged 15 or over having consulted medical professionals during a four-week period prior to the date when the survey was conducted. In general, the proportion of adults having consulted a general practitioner (as shown in Figure 2) was higher than the proportion having consulted a specialist medical practitioner (as shown in Figure 3); the only exceptions where a higher proportion of adults visited a specialist medical practitioner were Cyprus among the EU Member States and Turkey among the three non-member countries for which data are available.

Figure 2: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a generalist medical practitioner during the four weeks prior to the survey, by sex, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am2u)

Across the EU-28, just less than one third (31.3 %) of all men and just over two fifths (40.2 %) of all women consulted a general practitioner in 2014 (during the four-week period leading up to the survey). The highest proportion of people (male and female) having consulted a general practitioner was recorded in Italy (48.3 %), while more than two fifths of all adults consulted a general practitioner in France (44.3 %) and Germany (43.9 %). A breakdown by sex reveals that more than half (53.8 %) of all Italian women aged 15 or over consulted a general practitioner in 2014 (during the four-week period leading up to the survey), while the highest share of men consulting a general practitioner was also recorded in Italy (42.1 %).

The situation for specialist medical practitioners was quite different, as less than one fifth (17.0 %) of all men across the EU-28 and less than one quarter (23.5 %) of all women consulted a specialist medical practitioner in 2014 (during the four-week period leading up to the survey). The highest proportion of people (male and female) having consulted a specialist medical practitioner was recorded in Germany (34.5 %), while more than one quarter of the adult populations in Cyprus, Hungary, Luxembourg and Czechia also consulted a specialist medical practitioner. Among the EU Member States, Germany recorded the highest share of men (29.1 %) and women (39.7 %) consulting a specialist medical practitioner.

Women more likely than men to have consulted a general practitioner or a specialist practitioner

In all but one of the EU Member States for which data are available (no data for Belgium), women were more likely than men to have consulted a general practitioner or a specialist medical practitioner. For general practitioners, the difference between the sexes was more than 10.0 percentage points in Poland, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria (where the largest difference was recorded among the Member States, 12.6 percentage points); there was also a double-digit gap between the sexes in Turkey. By contrast, the gender gap was close to 4 percentage points in Finland, Austria and Czechia, while a slightly higher share of Cypriot men (5.4 %, compared with 5.3 % for Cypriot women) consulted a general practitioner.

Figure 3: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a specialist medical practitioner during the four weeks prior to the survey, by sex, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am2u)

For consultations of specialist medical practitioners, the difference between the sexes ranged from 16.9 percentage points in Croatia and 10.0 or more percentage points in Estonia and Germany to less than 3.0 percentage points difference in Malta, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom (where the lowest difference was recorded, 1.4 percentage points). There was also a double-digit gap between the sexes in Turkey, while the difference in Norway was less than 3.0 percentage points.

The data presented in Tables 1 and 2 also come from the second wave of the EHIS and these present an analysis by age group. In most of the EU Member States for which data are available, the proportion of the adult population having consulted a general practitioner was lowest among persons aged 15-24 or those aged 25-34, after which the share of the population having consulted a general practitioner tended to rise steadily to peak among those aged 65-74 years or 75 years and over.

Table 1: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a generalist medical practitioner during the four weeks prior to the survey, by age, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am2u)

An identical pattern was observed for the proportion of the population having consulted a specialist medical practitioner (see Table 2), as the lowest proportions were recorded for one of the two youngest age groups and the highest shares for either those aged 65-74 or those aged 75 years and over; Malta was the only exception as its highest share was recorded among people aged 55-64 years.

Table 2: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a specialist medical practitioner during the four weeks prior to the survey, by age, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am2u)

Consultations of dentists

In 2017, the highest average number of consultations of dentists was in the Netherlands

The average number of consultations of dentists was, unsurprisingly, far lower than the average number of consultations of medical doctors, as can be seen by comparing the scales of Figures 1 and 4. In Romania, Cyprus and Portugal (2012 data) each person consulted a dentist, on average, less than 0.5 times. Six EU Member States reported averages between 0.5 and 1.0 consultation in 2017 — Italy (2013 data), Denmark, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Poland and Bulgaria. Most of the remaining Member States reported averages between 1.0 and 1.6 consultations per year, with the Netherlands recording a significantly higher average (2.8 consultations).

Between 2012 and 2017, the average number of dental consultations decreased in 6 of the 19 EU Member States for which data are available (see Figure 4 for data availability), most notably in Denmark (down 0.4 consultations per year), while it was unchanged in seven Member States. The largest increases were recorded for the Netherlands (note there is a break in series) and Lithuania, where the average rose by 0.7 and 0.4 consultations per year respectively.

Figure 4: Consultation of a dentist, 2012 and 2017
(average number of consultations per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_hc_dent)

Women were more likely than men to have consulted a dentist

Figures 5 and 6 and Table 3 also provide information concerning self-reported consultations of dentists or orthodontists; note however that these data are from the EHIS and relate to when people aged 15 or more had made their most recent visit to a dentist or orthodontist.

In 2014, almost 4 out of every 10 Europeans reported that they had visited a dentist or orthodontist less than six months prior to the survey. The range in this share was from 22 % in Bulgaria to 58 % in Denmark, with Romania (9 %) below and Germany (61 %) above. In a majority of the EU Member States, the largest share of the adult population declared that they had not consulted a dentist or an orthodontist within the last year (compared with during the last six months, during the last 6-12 months, or never). In Romania, more than three quarters (76 %) of the adult population declared that the last time they had visited a dentist or orthodontist was one year ago or more, while shares of more than 50 % were also recorded in Hungary, Lithuania, Cyprus, Spain, Latvia and Bulgaria. There were two Member States where more than 6 % of the adult population had never visited a dentist or orthodontist — Italy and Romania.

Figure 5: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people according to the last occurrence of visit at a dentist or orthodontist, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am1e)

Similar to Figures 2 and 3 (which concerned consultations of general practitioners and specialists), Figure 6 shows that women were generally more likely to have consulted a dentist or orthodontist within the last year than men, but the difference was less pronounced than for the consultation of medical doctors. On average, the proportion of persons having visited a dentist or orthodontist within the last year (prior to the survey) was 62.8 % for women and 57.2 % for men (a difference of 5.6 percentage points between the two sexes). This gender gap in 2014 was consistently in favour of women across each of the EU Member States, with the biggest gaps (upwards of 8.0 percentage points difference) recorded in Malta, Latvia, the United Kingdom, Estonia and Poland, peaking at 12.4 percentage points in Lithuania.

Figure 6: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a dentist or orthodontist during the 12 months prior to the survey, by sex, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am1e)

Older people were less likely to have consulted a dentist or orthodontist within the last year

An age group analysis for the proportion of people having consulted a dentist or orthodontist during the 12 months prior to the EHIS revealed a quite different pattern from that described for people consulting medical doctors. Whereas the elderly were among those most likely to visit a medical doctor (general practitioner or specialist physician), they tended to visit dentists less often than younger people. The proportion of adults having consultations with a dentist or orthodontist was relatively uniform in most of the EU Member States across the different age groups through until the age of 55-64 years.

A closer analysis of the data for the elderly reveals that a relatively low share of this subpopulation consulted a dentist or orthodontist during the 12 months prior to the latest survey. For example, in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and Romania (as well as Turkey), one third or less of the population aged 65-74 reported having visited a dentist or orthodontist within the previous year, while for the same group of countries, the corresponding share among those aged 75 years and over was less than one fifth.

Table 3: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people who have consulted a dentist or orthodontist during the 12 months prior to the survey, by age, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am1e)

Consultations of psychologists, psychotherapists or psychiatrists

Psychologists study the mind and its functions, in particular in relation to individual and social behaviour. Psychiatrists, however, are medical doctors who specialise in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. They have post-graduate training in psychiatry and may also have additional training in a psychiatric specialty, such as neuropsychiatry or child psychiatry. The EHIS included questions asking respondents about their medical consultations with psychologists, psychotherapists or psychiatrists.

In 2014, some 5.3 % of the EU-28 population had consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist in the 12 months prior to the EHIS. In almost all of the EU Member States (see Figure 7) the proportion of people (aged 15 or over) having consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist was higher for women than for men. The only exceptions were Croatia and Malta, where the shares recorded for men were higher than those for women, while the two sexes recorded equal shares in Romania.

The share of women who consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist was particularly pronounced when compared with the corresponding share for men in the Nordic Member States of Finland, Denmark and Sweden; this pattern was repeated in Iceland.

Overall (men and women combined), the proportion of the population who had consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist within the 12 months prior to the EHIS was generally within the range of 2.0 % to 9.0 % across the EU Member States. Lower shares were recorded in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania, while shares above this range were recorded in Germany and Denmark (which had a peak of 10.4 %).

Figure 7: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist during the 12 months prior to the survey, by sex, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am6e)

Middle aged people were most likely to have consulted a psychologist or psychiatrist

An analysis by age (see Table 4) shows there was a general tendency for the proportion of adults in the EU-28 having consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist within the 12 months prior to the EHIS to peak in one of the groups covering middle age (35-64 years), and then to fall again for older age groups. The lowest shares of adults in the EU-28 consulting a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist were recorded for older age groups (65-74 years and 75 years and over).

However, this general pattern was not reproduced in all of the EU Member States: in Estonia, Ireland, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and the United Kingdom (as well as Iceland and Norway), the proportion who reported having consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist was highest among the youngest age group (15-24 years), while in Czechia, Italy, Cyprus and Lithuania, elderly persons (75 years and over) consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist more frequently than any other age group.

Table 4: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist during the 12 months prior to the survey, by age, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am6e)

People living in cities were more likely to consult a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist

In 2014, some 5.9 % of Europeans living in cities consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist during the 12 months prior to the EHIS (see Figure 8). The corresponding shares for people living in towns and suburbs (5.3 %) or rural areas (4.4 %) were lower.

This pattern was not universal across the EU Member States: in 14 of them, as well as Iceland and Norway, the highest proportions of people having consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist were recorded in cities, followed by towns and suburbs and then rural areas. The reverse was apparent in Hungary, Latvia and Sweden, where the highest proportion of consultations were recorded among people living in rural areas and the lowest among those living in cities. In Bulgaria, Spain, Ireland, Lithuania and Slovakia the share of people consulting with a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist was highest among adults living in towns and suburbs.

Figure 8: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist during the 12 months prior to the survey, by degree of urbanisation, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am6u)

Consultations of physiotherapists

Physiotherapists assess, plan and implement rehabilitative programmes that improve or restore human motor functions, maximise movement ability, relieve pain syndromes, and treat or prevent physical challenges associated with injuries, diseases and other impairments. They apply a broad range of physical therapies and techniques such as movement, ultrasound, heating, laser and other techniques.

Across the EU Member States (see Figure 9), the proportion of adults aged 15 or over having consulted a physiotherapist in the 12 months prior to the EHIS in 2014 ranged from 22 % in Denmark to 7 % in Cyprus, with Bulgaria (3.8 %) and Romania (2.7 %) below this range, and Finland (23.1 %), the Netherlands (25.9 %) and Luxembourg (27.9 %) above it.

On average, a higher proportion of women than men consulted physiotherapists (17.0 % and 13.1 %, respectively). This pattern was apparent across all of the EU Member States, with the exception of Cyprus and Malta, where men were more likely than women to have consulted a physiotherapist (although the differences between the sexes were relatively small). By contrast, the largest gender gaps in favour of women were recorded in Germany and Denmark, where the proportion of women consulting a physiotherapist was 8.1 percentage points higher than the share for men.

Figure 9: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a physiotherapist during the 12 months prior to the survey, by sex, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am6e)

Recourse to physiotherapists higher among middle aged people

A further analysis shows that the proportion of adults having consulted a physiotherapist across the EU-28 increased up to the age group 55-64 years and then slightly decreased for more elderly persons (65-74 years and 75 years and over): the lowest proportions were recorded among the younger age groups (people aged 15-34 years).

In 12 of the EU Member States — Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Croatia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland and the United Kingdom — the highest proportion of people consulting a physiotherapist was recorded for either those aged 45-54 or 55-64 years (see Table 5), while in four other Member States — Ireland, Spain, Latvia and Sweden — the highest proportion was recorded among people aged 35-44 years. In the remainder of the EU Member States, the percentage of persons who consulted a physiotherapist was most pronounced in one of the two oldest age groups (in other words, among people aged 65 years or more).

Table 5: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a physiotherapist during the 12 months prior to the survey, by age, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am6e)

About 16 % of the Europeans in towns and suburbs consulted a physiotherapist

Figure 10 presents the proportion of people in the EU-28 having consulted a physiotherapist in the 12 months prior to the EHIS. In 2014, this share peaked at 16.1 % for the population living in towns and suburbs, while it stood at 15.3 % for people living in cities and 13.9 % among those living in rural areas.

Figure 10: Self-reported consultations — proportion of people having consulted a physiotherapist during the 12 months prior to the survey, by degree of urbanisation, 2014
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_am6u)

A more detailed analysis for the EU Member States reveals there were considerable variations. The share of adults who reported having consulted a physiotherapist within the 12 months prior to the EHIS in 2014 was often lowest among the population living in rural areas (compared with cities or with towns and suburbs). Among those Member States that deviated from this pattern, the highest proportions of people consulting a physiotherapist in Greece, Malta, Finland and the United Kingdom were recorded among those living in rural areas. By contrast, in Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Sweden (as well as Norway), people living in towns and suburbs were most likely to have visited a physiotherapist. In the remaining Member States the highest share of people consulting a physiotherapist was recorded among those living in cities (except for Lithuania, where the shares for people living in cities and people living in towns and suburbs were the same).

Data sources

This article presents data on consultations of medical professionals from two types of sources, the first of which mainly relies on administrative data whereas the other is based on self-reported consultations from population or household surveys.

Healthcare resources and activities

Statistics on healthcare resources and healthcare activities (such as information on consultations of doctors and dentists) are documented in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions. Consultations of doctors exclude telephone contacts, visits for prescribed laboratory tests, or visits to perform prescribed and scheduled treatment procedures (such as injections and physiotherapy). Consultations of dentists include consultations of dental specialists, such as orthodontists. For country specific notes on this data collection, please refer to this background information document.

Health status

Self-reported statistics on consultations of doctors, dentists, psychologists and physiotherapists are provided by the European health interview survey (EHIS). This source is documented in more detail in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions.

Symbols

Note on tables:

  • a colon ‘:’ is used to show where data are not available;
  • a dash ‘–‘ is used to show where data are not applicable/relevant.

Context

Medical consultations are usually held in a doctor’s surgery/dentist’s practice or another place for the provision of ambulatory care, including out-patient care in hospitals, although medical professionals may also travel to patients, for example, in the case of an accident or emergency, or a home visit.

The frequency of consulting a particular type of medical professional may be influenced by the way doctors and other professionals are paid (either a fixed rate or as a function of the number and type of consultations and services provided), the range of services offered by other professionals (for example, some services may be provided by both nurses and doctors), and the division of work between generalist and specialist practitioners.

From the patient’s perspective, the time and monetary cost of a consultation may be factors which influence their decision to seek a consultation, alongside their perception as to their own needs for professional assistance; the frequency of consultations is also related to socio-demographic factors, such as age and gender.

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Health care (hlth_care)
Consultations (hlth_consult)
Self-reported time elapsed since last visit to a medical professional by sex, age and educational attainment level (hlth_ehis_am1e)
Self-reported consultations of a medical professional by sex, age and degree of urbanisation (hlth_ehis_am2u)
Self-reported consultations of a medical professional by sex, age and educational attainment level (hlth_ehis_am2e)
Self-reported consultation of mental healthcare or rehabilitative care professionals by sex, age and educational attainment level (%) (hlth_ehis_am6e)
Consultation of a medical doctor (in private practice or as outpatient) per inhabitant (hlth_hc_phys)
Consultation of a dentist per inhabitant (hlth_hc_dent)