A population-based study on healthcare-seeking behaviour of persons with symptoms of respiratory and gastrointestinal-related infections in Hong Kong.


We conducted a longitudinal population-based telephone survey in Hong Kong. We collected data on healthcare-seeking behaviour specific to symptoms of respiratory and gastrointestinal-related infections and also associated demographic factors. We performed descriptive analyses and estimated the proportion of participants who sought medical consultation, types of services utilized and duration from symptom onset to healthcare seeking, by different age groups. Post-stratification was used to compensate non-response and multiple imputation to handle missing and right-censored data.

Healthcare-seeking behaviour were different by symptoms and age. Characterization of these patterns provides crucial parameters for estimating the full burden of common infectious diseases from facility-based surveillance system, for planning and allocation of healthcare resources.

Studies on healthcare-seeking behaviour usually adopted a patient care perspective, or restricted to specific disease conditions. However, pre-diagnosis symptoms may be more relevant to healthcare-seeking behaviour from a patient perspective. We described healthcare-seeking behaviours by specific symptoms related to respiratory and gastrointestinal-related infections.

We recruited 2564 participants who reported a total of 4370 illness episodes and 7914 symptoms. Fatigue was the most frequently reported symptom, followed by headache and runny nose, with 30-day incidence rate of 9.1, 7.7, and 7.7% respectively. 78% of the participants who had fever sought medical consultation, followed by those with rash (60%) and shortness of breath (58%). Older adults (aged ≥55y) who had symptoms including fever, sore throat, and headache had a significantly higher consultation rate comparing to the other age groups. The 30-day incidence rates of influenza-like illness (ILI) and acute respiratory illness (ARI) were 0.8 and 7.2% respectively, and the consultation rates among these participants were 91 and 64%. Private general practitioner clinics was the main service utilized by participants for most of the symptoms considered, especially those related to acute illness such as fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. Chinese medicine clinics were mostly likely to be visited by participants with low back pain, myalgia and fatigue. Among participants who have sought medical services, most were within 3 days of symptom onset.

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