• health care;
  • health-services research;
  • infant

Objective:  To describe patterns of health-service use in the first 12 months of life.

Methods:  In this prospective cohort study, 173 first-born infants and their families living in two middle socio-economic urban areas of Melbourne were enrolled consecutively when presenting for their initial maternal and child health nurse (MCHN) visit (at approximately 4 weeks of age). Families kept a daily ‘health diary’ for the entire 12-month period, recording use of all health services for their infant, and reasons for the contact.

Results:  There was an 87% completion rate of diaries. The mean number of visits to any health service, including medical, hospitals, MCHN services, pharmacists, allied health services and naturopaths, was 35.7 (95% CI 34.7−36.6) during the 12 months. Of these, 31% (mean 10.9 visits) were visits to a general practitioner (GP) and 41.5% (mean 14.3 visits) were visits to the MCHN. Infants’ visits to the MCHN were far more frequent in the first 6 months of life compared with the second 6 months (10.3 vs 3.6, P < 0.001). Rates of GP use were constant over the same periods (5.3 vs 5.7, P = 0.8).

Conclusions:  In a universal health-care system, this high rate of health-service use equates to approximately one visit to a health service every 2 weeks in the first year of life. The majority of these visits appeared unrelated to illness. This previously undocumented data has implications for future integrated service delivery, health-professional training and policy development for this age group.