Research Project

Conspicuous Consumption: Characterizing High Users of Health Care



In every health care system, only a small proportion of the population accounts for most of health services usage. It is often assumed that these individuals are just sicker, older or more likely to seek out health care than the rest of the population. This influential study found that this small group of high users was struck by an extraordinary burden of ill health, with most individuals suffering from at least six different major complaints. A combination of chronic physical and mental health conditions was particularly common.

This preliminary study has important policy implications for those interested in health care financing, as it indicates that for a resource-intensive group like the high users, efforts should be made to provide coordinated multidisciplinary care.


This study used data from the BC Linked Health Database to identify high users of physician services in British Columbia. High users were compared to other users and non-users in health status and use of health care services.


  • National Health Research and Development Program, Government of Canada