The concentration of middle-aged and older patients visiting doctors' offices increased between 1998 and 2008, and, between 1978 and 2008, the majority of visits by senior citizens shifted from primary-care doctors to specialists, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report based on data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.
According to the report, while the percentage of the U.S. populace age 45 and over has increased to 38% from 33%, the percentage of doctors' office visits made by that group increased to 57% in 2008 from 49% in 1998. Looking at 30 years of data, the report said seniors saw primary-care physicians during only 45% of their visits in 2008 compared with 1978 when that figure was 62%.
According to the report, the primary diagnoses responsible for the numerically biggest increases in senior citizen patient visits between 1998 and 2008 were: essential hypertension, up to almost 22.7 million from 14 million (62% increase); cardiac dysrhythmia, up to almost 6.8 million from more than 2.8 million (139% increase); and diabetes mellitus, up to almost 11 million from almost 7.6 million (45% increase).
Most physicians were still accepting new Medicare patients in 2008, the report said, but there was wide variation among medical specialties. The types of physicians who were most willing to accept new Medicare patients were: ophthalmologists, 99%; general surgeons, 97%; and orthopedic surgeons (96%).
“In the future, the percentage of visits for those aged 65 and over will increase as the baby boomers, currently aged 45-64, move into the 65 and over age group,” the report concluded. “Physician visits are becoming increasingly focused on management of chronic conditions such as hypertension, coronary atherosclerosis and diabetes.”See the CDC report (PDF).