Aging Boomers Drive Up Doctor Visits

Diagnostic Tests and Prescriptions Also on Increase

For Release: Monday, August 11, 2003

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800


National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2001 Summary. Advance Data No. 337. 44 pp. (PHS) 2003-1250. pdf icon[PDF – 1.9 MB]

Over half (53 percent) of patients visiting the doctor in 2001 were over age 45, according to the latest annual report from CDC’s National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which looks at the medical care provided in physicians’ offices. That’s compared to 42 percent in 1992.

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

In 2001, there were more visits with diagnostic and screening services ordered or performed, up 28 percent since 1992. Doctor visits that included counseling and education increased by 34 percent; diet was the most frequently provided counseling topic. The percent of visits with surgical procedures performed in the doctor’s office increased by 81 percent 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 percent of visits for diabetes went up 63 percent between 1992 and 2001. Diabetes was the primary diagnosis at 27 million doctor visits in 2001.

“More Americans than ever before are seeking care for diabetes,” said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, “and this is good since early diagnosis and careful management of diabetes can prevent or forestall serious complications. Most important though is for people to prevent diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active,” he said.

Overall about 16 percent of doctor visits were for preventive care. Among those 15-44 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 that the uninsured are at a greater risk of not receiving preventive care or an early diagnosis.

The number of drugs prescribed or ordered for patients is rising and totaled 1.3 billion in 2001, reflecting both the need to prescribe multiple drugs for those with multiple conditions as well as the availability of many new and popular types of medication. Two of the most frequently prescribed drugs in 2001 were Celebrex and Vioxx, newly-marketed to treat arthritis pain since 1997. Lipitor, a statin drug, Claritin, for allergies and the diuretic Lasix, round out the top five drugs in 2001. In 1992 the antibiotic, Amoxiicillin (Amoxil) was the most frequently prescribed drug, but over the past decade antibiotic use has dropped 45 percent with the realization that antibiotics have been overprescribed.

In 2001, about half of all visits were to the patient’s primary care physician. About 1 visit in 10 was by a new patient, down 20 percent from 1992, and possibly reflecting greater continuity in physician/patient relationships. For over a fifth of the visits, patients had made 6 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 see the doctor in the office, but physicians report a small number of home visits and e-mail consultations.

CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics conducts this annual survey of visits to the doctor as part of its National Health Care Survey, which also covers hospitals, outpatient and emergency departments, ambulatory surgery centers, nursing homes, hospices, and home health care. The survey provides an opportunity to examine health care across a range of settings and to monitor patterns and shifts in the way health care services are provided and used.

“National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2001 Summary” can be viewed at CDC/NCHS web site. The Web site also contains additional information about this survey which is based on a representative sample of office-based physicians.


Page last reviewed: October 6, 2006