New NCHS Publications Address Critical Issues in Health Care

Contact: NCHS/CDC Public Affairs, (301) 458-4800


Americans made almost 1 billion visits to the doctor in 1997, heart disease and childbirth were the leading causes of hospitalization in that year, and the number of patients receiving home health care has doubled during the 1990’s, according to a series of new reports on health care patterns in the United States published by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The NCHS National Health Care Survey covers inpatient hospitalizations, outpatient surgery, ambulatory care in doctors’ offices and emergency and outpatient departments, and long-term care in nursing homes and through hospices and home health care agencies. Together these surveys provide a comprehensive profile of health care in America.

Recent reports show that:

  • In 1997, there were an estimated 959 million ambulatory care visits made to physician offices, hospital outpatient departments, and hospital emergency departments. Visits to office-based physicians were predominant, accounting for slightly over 80 percent of all visits, with the rest divided about equally between emergency and outpatient departments.
  • For just over 50 percent of all ambulatory care visits, private insurance was the expected source of payment. Medicare accounted for about 20 percent and Medicaid another 10 percent of visits.
  • More than one-half of all visits to the doctor were made for reasons classified as symptoms, with respiratory symptoms accounting for 1 in 10 visits. Other reasons for visiting the doctor included continuing treatment of an existing problem; diagnostic, screening, and preventive care; injuries and adverse effects; tests results; and administrative reasons.
  • Heart disease (4.1 million) and childbirth (3.8 million) were the leading causes of hospitalization in 1997. Malignant neoplasms, pneumonia, psychoses, stroke, and fractures each totaled more than a million hospitalizations.
  • Overall, there were an estimated 31 million hospitalizations in 1997. Patients 65 years of age and over accounted for almost 40 percent of these hospital episodes.
  • The average elderly home health care patient is a woman between the ages of 75 and 84 years, white, non-Hispanic, widowed, and living with members of her family in a private home. Diseases of the circulatory system, including heart disease, was the most frequent diagnosis for a home health care patient.

These and other findings appear in the following reports, which can be viewed or downloaded without charge.

  • Series 13, No. 143. Ambulatory Care Visits to Physician Offices, Hospital Outpatient Departments, and Emergency Departments: United States, 1997. 47 pp. (PHS) 2000-1714. [PDF – 778 KB]
  • Series 13, No. 144. National Hospital Discharge Survey: Annual Summary, 1997. 52 pp. (PHS) 2000-1715. [PDF – 371 KB]
  • Advance Data No. 309. Characteristics of Elderly Home Health Care Users: Data From the 1996 National Home and Hospice Care Survey. 12 pp. (PHS) 2000-1250 [PDF – 93 KB]