Complementary and alternative medicine--including acupuncture, chiropractic and physical therapy--are leading the rapid growth in outpatient hospital procedures, though diagnostic imaging and other forms of nuclear medicine also are enjoying increased popularity, a new report says.
According to Solucient, an Evanston, Ill.-based healthcare research firm, chiropractic treatment soared by 91% between 1998 and 2001, to 115.5 million procedures in 2001.
U.S. patients received 400.5 million treatments in physical therapy in 2001, 70% more than three years earlier. Acupuncture tripled in volume between 1998 and 2001.
Nuclear medicine experienced 49% growth in the same time frame, while the number of neurological testing and chemotherapy procedures each grew by nearly 35%.
Solucient cites a 2001 report by Health Affairs magazine that says hospital outpatient spending expanded by 11.2% in 2000, the greatest jump since 1992, while inpatient spending inched up just 2.8%.
The report identifies four factors in this increased utilization of outpatient services: new technologies or techniques; a change in physician practice patterns due to updated research or clinical guidelines; decisions by insurance companies to cover these services; and increased patient demand.
Solucient says technology has changed the methods of diagnosing digestive disorders, as sigmoidoscopy and proctosigmoidoscopy declined sharply in the three-year period studied, while the number of colonoscopies soared by 77%, to 8.1 million procedures in 2001. Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy also gained in popularity at the turn of the millennium.
Other imaging technologies, including MRI, PET and CT scanning, also are enjoying explosive growth, in part because patients are better educated about treatment options, Solucient says.
"Proactive patients often ask for the noninvasive CT scans and MRIs because they want the best and latest technology and assume that the more sophisticated the imaging, the more accurate the diagnosis," the report says.
The research specifically mentions a hefty increase in the number of baby boomers seeking bone-density screening for osteoporosis, a procedure that Medicare began covering in 1998.