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Examining different measures of multimorbidity, using a large prospective cross-sectional study in Australian general practice
  1. Christopher Harrison,
  2. Helena Britt,
  3. Graeme Miller,
  4. Joan Henderson
  1. Family Medicine Research Centre, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Christopher Harrison; christopher.harrison{at}


Objectives Prevalence estimates of multimorbidity vary widely due to inconsistent definitions and measurement methods. This study examines the independent effects on prevalence estimates of how ‘disease entity’ is defined—as a single chronic condition or chapters/domains in the International Classification of Primary Care (V.2; ICPC-2), International Classification of Disease (10th revision; ICD-10) or the Cumulative Illness Rating Scale (CIRS), the number of disease entities required for multimorbidity, and the number of chronic conditions studied.

Design National prospective cross-sectional study.

Setting Australian general practice.

Participants 8707 random consenting deidentified patient encounters with 290 randomly selected general practitioners.

Main outcome measures Prevalence estimates of multimorbidity using different definitions.

Results Data classified to ICPC-2 chapters, ICD-10 chapters or CIRS domains produce similar multimorbidity prevalence estimates. When multimorbidity was defined as two or more (2+) disease entities: counting individual chronic conditions and groups of chronic conditions produced similar estimates; the 12 most prevalent chronic conditions identified about 80% of those identified using all chronic conditions. When multimorbidity was defined as 3+ disease entities: counting individual chronic conditions produced significantly higher estimates than counting groups of chronic conditions; the 12 most prevalent chronic conditions identified only two-thirds of patients identified using all chronic conditions.

Conclusions Multimorbidity defined as 2+ disease entities can be measured using different definitions of disease entity with as few as 12 prevalent chronic conditions, but lacks specificity to be useful, especially in older people. Multimorbidity, defined as 3+, requires more measurement conformity and inclusion of all chronic conditions, but provides greater specificity than the 2+ definition. The proposed concept of “complex multimorbidity”, the co-occurrence of three or more chronic conditions affecting three or more different body systems within one person without defining an index chronic condition, may be useful in identifying high-need individuals.

  • Multimorbidity
  • Comorbidity
  • General practice

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