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Survey finds a billion doctor visits
Scripps Howard News Service


June 24, 2006

WASHINGTON - Americans went to the doctor more than a billion times in 2004, only slightly less often than they went to the movies, according to government surveys released Friday.

There were more than 1.1 billion visits to doctors' offices and hospital emergency and outpatient departments, or an average of 3.8 visits for every man, woman and child, according to reports issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



By contrast, the motion picture industry reported 1.51 billion movie tickets sold in 2004; the meat industry, about 38 billion hamburgers consumed.

The surveys showed ambulatory care visits have increased by 31 percent since 1994, or about three times the rate of population growth in the past decade.

The surveys are done annually by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics using a select sample of doctors and hospitals in all 50 states.

The bulk of the visits, nearly 911 million, took place in physicians' offices, but Medicaid patients and people without insurance or seeking charity care were more likely to be seen in a hospital setting.

According to the American Medical Association, the number of office-based physicians in the U.S. increased by about 32 percent during the past decade, while the number of hospital emergency departments has declined by several hundred.

The surveys found that the average time a patient waits before seeing a physician in an emergency department has increased from 38 minutes in 1997 to 47 minutes in 2004. The surveys don't track waiting times in the doctors' offices, but did show that the average time a patient spends face-to-face with a doctor during a visit has remained stable over the past decade at about 16 minutes.

Patients 65 and older made an average of all outpatient 7.6 visits per person in 2004, but infants under the age of a year had the highest rate of visits per person in any age group, 8.5.

Treatment of high blood pressure, childhood checkups and upper respiratory infections were the three leading reasons for outpatient visits in all settings.

For the first time, the survey of doctor's offices tracked seasonal variations for certain types of visits. It found that overall, people are less likely to visit a doctor's office from spring through summer, with visits for most conditions tending to peak in the fall to winter.

Visits for mental disorders also increased in the fall, while visits related to emergency injury were more likely to occur in the spring.


Contact Lee Bowman at BowmanL(at)
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Scripps Howard News Service,

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