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Americans Make Nearly Four Medical Visits a Year On Average

For Immediate Release: August 6, 2008

Contact: CDC National Center for Health Statistics, Office of Communication (301) 458-4800

Patients in the United States made an estimated 1.1 billion visits to physician offices and hospital outpatient and emergency departments in 2006, an annual rate of nearly 4 visits per person annually, according to new health care statistics (NHSR #8 [PDF, 624 KB]) released today by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Ambulatory Medical Care Utilization Estimates for 2006. NHSR Number 8. 32 pp.
PDF Version (624 KB)

The data come from various components of the CDC/NCHS National Health Care Survey and are featured in a series of new National Health Statistics Reports (NHSR). Some of the findings on ambulatory medical care in the U.S. include the following:

  • The number of medical visits to physician offices and hospital outpatient and emergency departments increased by 26 percent from 1996 to 2006, faster than the growth of the U.S. population, which rose by 11 percent. The rise in visits can be linked to both the aging of the population, as older persons have higher visit rates than younger persons in general, and an increase in utilization by older persons (NHSR #8 [PDF, 624 KB]).
  • In 2006, 7 in 10 medical visits to these three settings had at least one medication provided, prescribed, or continued, for a total of 2.6 billion drugs overall. Analgesics were the most common therapeutic category, accounting for 13.6 percent of all drugs prescribed, and were most often utilized at primary care and emergency department visits (NHSR #8 [PDF, 624 KB]).
  • Over one-third of medical visits for African-American patients were to hospital emergency and outpatient departments as opposed to physician offices -- 37.7 percent compared with 17.2 percent for white patients (NHSR #8 [PDF, 624 KB]).
  • Hispanic or Latino persons had a rate of preventive care services at hospital outpatient departments that were twice the rate for non-Hispanic persons (11.9 compared with 5.8 visits per 100 persons) (NHSR #4 [PDF, 617 KB]).
  • The emergency department served as the route of admission to hospital inpatient services for one-half of nonobstetric hospital patients in 2006, a marked increase from 36 percent in 1996 (NHSR #7 [PDF, 697 KB]).
  • Patients enrolled in Medicaid use the emergency department more frequently than patients with private insurance -– 82 per 100 persons for Medicaid compared with 21 per 100 for private insurance (NHSR #7 [PDF, 697 KB]).
  • Most emergency department visits occurred after business hours (defined as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays), when 63 percent of adults and 73 percent of children younger than age 15 arrived (NHSR #7 [PDF, 697 KB]).
  • On average, the number of patient arrivals at the emergency department leveled off at 10 a.m., but occupancy in the emergency department did not peak until 7 p.m., as new visits and admitted patients waiting for a hospital bed accumulate (NHSR #7 [PDF, 697 KB]).
  • One-half of physician office visits were made by patients with one or more chronic conditions. Hypertension was the most frequent condition, followed by arthritis, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression. Since 1996, visits by adults with diabetes, hypertension, and depression have all significantly increased (NHSR #3 [PDF, 855 KB]).
  • Between 1996 and 2006, the percentage of visits to hospital outpatient departments made by adults 18 years and over with chronic diabetes increased by 43%, and visits with chronic hypertension increased by 51% (NHSR #4 [PDF, 617 KB]).

One of the new reports focuses on hospitalization rates and inpatient characteristics and includes the following findings:

  • Over the past 36 years, the percentage of hospital inpatients who were 65 years of age and over grew from 20 percent in 1970 to 38 percent in 2006. Over the same time period, the percentage of inpatients who were 75 years of age and over grew from 9 percent to over 24 percent (NHSR #5 [PDF, 770 KB]).
  • The rate of knee replacement for those aged 65 years and over increased 46 percent between 2000-2006 whereas the rate doubled among those aged 45-64 years during the same time period (NHSR #5 [PDF, 770 KB]).
  • The rate of coronary atherosclerosis more than doubled during the 1990s, but since 2002 declined for all age groups, particularly for those aged 65 years and over (NHSR #5 [PDF, 770 KB]).

Ambulatory Medical Care Utilization Estimates for 2006. NHSR Number 8. 32 pp.
PDF Version (624 KB)

National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2006 Emergency Department Summary. NHSR Number 7. 39 pp.
PDF Version (697 KB)

2006 National Hospital Discharge Survey. NHSR Number 5. 20 pp.
PDF Version (770 KB)

National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2006 Outpatient Department Summary. NHSR Number 4. 32 pp.
PDF Version (617 KB)

National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2006 Summary. NHSR Number 3. 40 pp.
PDF Version (855 KB)