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The impact of multimorbidity level and functional limitations on the accuracy of using self-reported survey data compared to administrative data to measure general practitioner and specialist visits in community-living adults


Background — Researchers often use survey data to study the effect of health and social variables on physician use, but how self-reported physician use compares to administrative data, the gold standard, in particular within the context of multimorbidity and functional limitations remains unclear. We examine whether multimorbidity and functional limitations are related to agreement between self-reported and administrative data for physician use.

Methods — Cross-sectional data from 52,854 Ontario participants of the Canadian Community Health Survey linked to administrative data were used to assess agreement on physician use. The number of general practitioner (GP) and specialist visits in the previous year was assessed using both data sources; multimorbidity and functional limitation were from self-report.

Results — Fewer participants self-reported GP visits (84.8%) compared to administrative data (89.1%), but more self-reported specialist visits (69.2% vs. 64.9%). Sensitivity was higher for GP visits (≥90% for all multimorbidity levels) compared to specialist visits (approximately 75% for 0 to 90% for 4+ chronic conditions). Specificity started higher for GP than specialist visits but decreased more swiftly with multimorbidity level; in both cases, specificity levels fell below 50%. Functional limitations, age and sex did not impact the patterns of sensitivity and specificity seen across level of multimorbidity.

Conclusions — Countries around the world collect health surveys to inform health policy and planning, but the extent to which these are linked with administrative, or similar, data are limited. Our study illustrates the potential for misclassification of physician use in self-report data and the need for sensitivity analyses or other corrections.



Griffith LE, Gruneir A, Fisher KA, Aljied R, Perez R, Nguyen F, Patterson C, Markle-Reid M, Ploeg J, Upshur R. BMC Health Serv Res. 2021; 21(1):1123. Epub 2021 Oct 19.

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