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Revista de Saúde Pública

On-line version ISSN 1518-8787

Rev. Saúde Pública vol.42 n.5 São Paulo Oct. 2008  Epub Aug 14, 2008




Utilization of the Family Health Program in metropolitan regions: a methodological approach


Utilización del Programa de Salud de la Família en regiones metropolitanas: abordaje metodológico



Aylene BousquatI, II; Maria Cecilia Goi Porto AlvesIII; Paulo Eduardo EliasII, IV

IPrograma de Pós-Graduação em Saúde Coletiva. Universidade Católica de Santos. Santos, SP, Brasil
IICentro de Estudos de Cultura Contemporânea. São Paulo, SP, Brasil
IIIInstituto de Saúde. Secretaria de Estado da Saúde de São Paulo. São Paulo, SP, Brasil
IVDepartamento de Medicina Preventiva. Faculdade de Medicina. Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo, SP, Brasil





OBJECTIVE: To present the methodological approach used to define the profile of health services utilization by the population enrolled in the Family Health Program.
METHODS: Three patterns of services utilization accessed by the population were considered: residual, partial and full. These patterns were identified based on the range of actions of the Family Health Program that are accessed by the population. An enquiry was conducted in 2006 with two-stage sampling in an area characterized by high levels of social exclusion in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. In the first stage, 960 people participating in family health teams were drawn and classified by the community-based health agents as "full use" or not of the health services. In the second stage, 173 drawn subjects were then classified according to the patterns of services utilization.
RESULTS: Subjects were classified as full users (16%), partial users (57%) and residual users (26%), and had different social and demographic characteristics. There was a selective and focused utilization of the services offered by the Family Health Program. Being male, having a level of schooling above the fifth grade of elementary school, having a paid job and accessing medical care systems implied lower adhesion to the services, even though the study focused on regions with few options of healthcare services. Even in areas of high social exclusion and low offer of health services, 25% of the enrolled population did not use the services offered at the Family Health Units, receiving only home visits.
CONCLUSIONS: Methodologies that are capable of capturing distinct patterns of health services utilization by the population may contribute to improve services evaluation.

Descriptors: Family Health Program. Health Services, utilization. Health Services Accessibility. Health Care (Public Health). Health Surveys. Primary Health Care.


OBJETIVO: Presentar un abordaje metodológico de investigación para la definición del perfil de utilización de los servicios de salud por la población dependiente del Programa de Salud de la Familia.
MÉTODOS: Se consideró la existencia de tres patrones de uso de los servicios que accede la población: residual, parcial y completo, definidos a partir del abanico de opciones del Programa de Salud de la Familia, a los que accede la población. Se realizó una investigación con muestreo en dos fases en área de elevada exclusión social del municipio de Sao Paulo (Sureste de Brasil), en 2006. En la primera fase, 960 personas participantes de equipos de salud de la familia fueron sorteadas y clasificadas por los agentes comunitarios de salud en "uso completo" o no de los servicios de salud. En la segunda fase, 173 sorteados fueron clasificados de acuerdo a los patrones de uso de los servicios.
RESULTADOS: Los usuarios fueron clasificados en completos (16%), parciales (57%) y residuales (26%), reflejándose distintos con relación a las características sociodemográficas. Hay una utilización selectiva y enfocada de los servicios ofrecidos por el Programa de Salud de la Familia, en la cual pertenecer al sexo masculino, tener escolaridad superior a la quinta serie de la enseñanza fundamental, ejercer una actividad remunerada y acceder a los seguros de salud implica menor adhesión a los servicios, aún tratándose de regiones con poca oferta de servicios asistenciales. Incluso en áreas de alta exclusión social e baja oferta de servicios de salud, 25% de la población censada no utiliza servicios ofertados, recibiendo sólo las visitas domiciliares.
CONCLUSIONES: Metodologías capaces de captar distintos patrones de utilización de servicios de salud por la población pueden contribuir para mejorar la evaluación de servicios.

Descriptores: Programa de Salud Familiar. Servicios de Salud, utilización. Accesibilidad a los Servicios de Salud. Atención a la Salud. Encuestas Epidemiológicas. Atención Primaria de Salud.




Given its importance in the Brazilian health policies scenario, mainly in primary health care, the Programa Saúde da Família (PSF - Family Health Program) has been the object of several studies. However, few investigations perform a breakdown of the utilization profile of these services considering the entire enrolled population. The option that prevails is to conduct inquiries into users of Unidades de Saúde da Família (USF - Family Health Units). Thus, it is assumed - without empirical evidence - that when a service is offered, it is used by the entire enrolled population.

Another dimension that needs to be incorporated into research studies that focus on the PSF are the innovations in the offer of services enabled by the Family Health strategy. After all, a central element of this strategy is the offering of services beyond the individual medical visit, such as health promotion and prevention activities.

The objective of the present study was to present the methodological approach used to identify the profile of health services utilization by the population enrolled in the Family Health Program.



The methodological approach described here refers to the research study "Avaliação do PSF pela população residente em áreas metropolitanas por meio de instrumento de coleta de dados informatizado" (Evaluation of the PSF by the population living in metropolitan areas by means of a computerized data collection instrument), carried out by the Centro de Estudos de Saúde Contemporânea, the Master's Program in Collective Health of Universidade Católica de Santos and by the Preventive Medicine Department of Faculdade de Medicina of Universidade de São Paulo. The existence of three patterns of services utilization was considered, which are related to the PSF's range of activities:

  • residual users: a portion of the population that only receives the visit of the Agente Comunitário de Saúde (ACS - Community-based Health Agent), but does not attend the USF and does not participate in community-based activities;
  • partial users: a portion of the population that, besides receiving the visit of the ACS, attends the USF for individual medical visits but does not participate in group and community-based activities;
  • full users: a portion of the population that attends the USF and participates in group and community-based activities.

The larger research study aforementioned was carried out in the state of São Paulo, in the cities of São Paulo, Praia Grande and Santo André (Southeastern Brazil), in the period from 2004 to 2006. In the case of São Paulo, given the existence of distinct patterns of implementation of the PSF according to social and spatial exclusion, the study included dwellers assisted by family health teams from two administrative districts located in areas of high and low social exclusion.2 In the present paper, we selected some of the results obtained in the area marked by the highest degree of social exclusion of the city of São Paulo to illustrate the potential of this approach. It is supposed that in high social exclusion areas the USF are the main health resources, due to the low offer of public and private services. In this way, the methodology is tested in the region that is most favourable to the full utilization of the PSF services.

To evaluate the enrolled population's perception regarding the activities of the family health teams, the sampling plan considered distinct patterns of utilization of the offered services, enabling the identification of differences related to socioeconomic profile and to services evaluation and utilization.

To obtain samples for the population subgroups that illustrate the three utilization patterns, two-stage sampling was used. In the first stage of the study, 960 people were drawn from the Sistema de Informação da Atenção Básica (SIAB - Basic Care Information System), which contained the records of 3,779 dwellers. By consulting the ACS, the drawn people of this first sample were classified into two strata. The people whom the ACS considered as belonging to the "full use" group were placed in the first stratum (164 people), and those who, in the opinion of the ACS, would not belong to that group were placed in the second stratum (719 people). The other 77, although still enrolled, did not live in the catchment area anymore.

In the second stage of the sampling process, 120 and 130 people were drawn in each one of the strata. The sampling fractions were the following:

The interviews were conducted in the drawn people's homes by trained interviewers, who used an electronic support to capture the data on the spot (palmtop computer). Based on the information provided by the interviewees, it was possible to classify them into the groups "full utilization", "partial utilization" and "residual utilization".

The rate of non-answer was of 32.5% in the first stratum and of 29.2% in the second, totalling 29.8% in the overall sample. In the two strata, refusal totalled approximately 11%. The other losses occurred because some of the drawn people were not located at the addresses indicated in the SIAB. Eventually, 173 people were interviewed.

Weights were introduced in the data analysis to compensate for the different selection probabilities used in the two strata, determined by the inverse of the sampling fractions. The existence of differences between the three groups of users was verified by means of the Bonferroni test of multiple comparisons, considering data weighting and using the software Stata, version 9.

The research project was approved by the Committee for Ethics in Research of Universidade Católica de Santos.



Of the interviewees, 46 were full users, 92 were partial users and 35 were residual users. The major part of the full users (37 people, 80%) belonged to the first stratum.

Considering the sampling fractions, the composition of the enrolled population was: 57.3% of partial users (CI 95%: 48.6;65.5), 26.5% of residual users (CI 95%: 19.4;35.2) and 16.2% of full users (CI 95%: 11.3; 22.6).

As regards to socioeconomic characteristics (Table), there were differences between the three groups. Despite the reduced sample sizes, it was possible to verify that the residual and full groups differed in almost all the evaluated characteristics. When the residual and partial groups were compared, the differences between the estimated percentages were no longer statistically significant for some characteristics. Comparing the partial and full groups, we identified a statistically significant difference only for "used another health service in the last 12 months".



The full users also utilized other health services, while the residual and partial ones did not in the same proportion.



One of the advantages of the two-stage sampling is the possibility of privileging the inclusion in the sample of individuals which characteristics of interest that are rare.1,3,4 Despite producing some failures, low application cost tracking instruments can be used in the first sampling to classify the elements according to a "suspicion" of the presence of the characteristic of interest.

In the present study, the interview with the ACS used in the screening process proved to be a quick and economic form of identifying people who made "full use" of the health service. The majority (80%) of the people of this group found in the sample derived from the first stratum. In addition, the ACSs were requested to identify people who would belong to the "full use" group, without specifying the period of such use. However, in the inquiry, only the last 12 months were considered. Consequently, some of the people placed in the first stratum were subsequently classified as "partial or residual use".

In the two-stage sampling, the selection probability in the second stage depends on the data collected in the first one. The draw of sub-samples with distinct selection probabilities leads to the use of weights in the data analysis, introduced to compensate for these probability differences, causing an increase in the sampling error in case the overall enrolled population is considered.3 Even with this decrease in the estimates' precision, costs are reduced with the use of two-stage sampling. In the present study, it was an efficient way of sampling the individuals who belonged to the "full use" group (16% of the enrolled population). A home inquiry in this situation would have a higher cost.

Ensuring the possibility of obtaining appropriate estimates for this group of people has an important meaning, as it constitutes the portion of the population that uses what could be classified as the full PSF, with promotion and protection activities. The resulting information may identify constraining and potentializing elements so that these activities effectively reach the entire population.

Results indicate that the use of samples of users who effectively attend the USF with the purpose of outlining the profile of services utilization of the enrolled population is probably inadequate in metropolises. There is a selective and focused utilization of the services offered by the PSF. Being male, having a level of schooling above the fifth grade of elementary school, having a paid job and accessing medical care systems imply lower adhesion to the services, even though the study focused on regions with few options of healthcare services. Even in areas of high social exclusion and low offer of health services, 25% of the enrolled population do not use the services offered at the USF, receiving only home visits.

From the health system perspective, the present methodology enables the revelation of important aspects, such as the selective utilization of services offered by the PSF according to the socioeconomic profile.



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2. Bousquat A, Cohn A, Elias PE. Implantação do Programa Saúde da Família e exclusão sócio-espacial no Município de São Paulo, Brasil. Cad Saude Publica. 2006;22(9):1935-43. DOI: 10.1590/S0102-311X2006000900025        [ Links ]

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Aylene Bousquat
R. Airosa Galvão 64 - Água Branca
05002-070 São Paulo, SP, Brasil

Received: 3/22/2007
Reviewed: 2/25/2008
Approved: 4/14/2008
Research funded by the Ministry of Health/Department of Science and Technology and by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq - Process 403238/2004-8).