Doctor visits on the rise

October 1, 2003

Pharmaceutical Representative

Fifty-three percent of patients visiting the doctor in 2001 were over age 45, compared with 42% in 1992, according to the latest annual report from the CDC.

Fifty-three percent of patients visiting the doctor in 2001 were over age 45, compared with 42% in 1992, according to the latest annual report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which looks at the medical care provided in physicians' offices.

The number of people over age 45 rose 11% during the past decade; however, doctor visits by that age group increased 26% during the same time period. According to the CDC, this is because seniors and older baby boomers are visiting the doctor more often to manage multiple chronic conditions, obtain newly available drugs and seek preventive care.

Diagnostics, screening and preventive care

In 2001, visits with diagnostic and screening services ordered or performed were up 28% compared with 1992. Doctor visits that included counseling and education increased by 34%, and diet was the most frequent counseling topic. The number of visits with surgical procedures performed in the doctor's office increased by 81% over the last 10 years.

The leading primary diagnoses for visits in 2001 included high blood pressure, arthritis and related joint disorders, the common cold, and diabetes. The number of visits for diabetes went up 63% between 1992 and 2001. Diabetes was the most common diagnosis, at 27 million doctor visits in 2001.

Overall, about 16% of doctor visits in 2001 were for preventive care. Among those 15 to 44 years of age, women were twice as likely as men to have preventive care visits. Those without insurance were less likely to see their physician for preventive care, thus supporting research that indicates the uninsured are at a greater risk of not receiving preventive care or an early diagnosis.

Prescriptions also increasing

Because of the need to prescribe multiple drugs for those with multiple conditions, as well as the availability of many new and popular types of medication, the number of drug prescriptions and orders for patients is rising and totaled 1.3 billion in 2001. The two most frequently prescribed drugs in 2001 were New York-based Pfizer Inc.'s Celebrex® (celecoxib) and Whitehouse Station, NJ-based Merck & Co. Inc.'s Vioxx® (rofecoxib), both of which are indicated for arthritis pain. Pfizer's statin drug Lipitor® (atorvastatin calcium), Kenilworth, NJ-based Schering-Plough Corp.'s allergy medication Claritin® (loratadine) and the diuretic Lasix® (furosemide), manufactured by Bridgewater, NJ-based Aventis Pharmaceuticals, rounded out the list of the top five drugs in 2001. In 1992 the antibiotic amoxicillin was the most frequently prescribed drug, but over the past decade, antibiotic use has dropped 45% with the realization that antibiotics have been overprescribed.

Number and length of visits

In 2001, about half of all visits were to the patient's primary care physician. About one visit in 10 was made by a new patient, down 20% from 1992 and possibly reflecting greater continuity in physician-patient relationships. For over a fifth of the visits, patients had made six or more previous visits to the same physician during the year. On average, patients spent about 19 minutes with the physician, in addition to any time spent by the physician reviewing records and test results, or time spent by the patient receiving care or instructions from other office staff. The vast majority of patients saw the doctor in the office, but physicians reported a small number of home visits and e-mail consultations. PR

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