Health Care Visits Up, but Economy Makes Patients Wary-August 2008

Lauren Green, Associate Editor
Published Online: Thursday, August 21, 2008

New statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that Americans made an estimated 1.1 billion visits to physicians’ offices and hospital outpatient and emergency departments in 2006, an increase of 26% over 1996 and an average of 4 visits per person per year. The US population rose only 11% during the same 10-year period. The CDC attributes the increase in health care use in part to the overall aging of the population.

Among other findings:

  • 7 of 10 visits had at least 1 medication provided, prescribed, or continued, for a total of 2.6 billion medications overall
  • Pain relievers were the most common, accounting for 13.6% of all drugs prescribed
  • Emergency department visits increased by 36%
  • The percentage of visits to hospital outpatient departments made by adults ≥18 years of age with chronic diabetes increased by 43%; for those with chronic high blood pressure, such visits increased by 51%

The data are from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics National Health Care Survey (www.cdc.gov/nchs) and come at a time when Americans now appear to be cutting back on health care spending. A recent survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) found that 22% of Americans say that they have cut back on the number of times they see a physician as a result of the weaker economy; 11% say they have cut back on the number of prescription drugs they take or the dosage of those medications to make the prescriptions last longer.

“Delaying medical treatment and regular physicals puts consumers at risk for potential health issues and increases overall health insurance costs,” said NAIC President and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger. “It’s critical that consumers continue to take responsibility for their health so that we can all benefit from healthier lives and more affordable health care.”

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