A record number of patients in the U.S. sought medical attention from providers in 2006, partly due to growth in both the overall general and aging population, according to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Patients across the country made an estimated 1.1 billion visits to doctors offices and hospitals in 2006, a 26% increase from 1996 and an average of four visits per person per year, the data show.
Additionally, many more of those visits are coming through the emergency department. The CDC report shows that the nations emergency departments served as the primary entry point to inpatient care for half of nonobstetric patients in 2006, up 36% from 1996. Patients with Medicaid overwhelmingly used emergency services more than those with private insurance, 82 per 100 persons with Medicaid vs. 21 per 100 persons with private payers, the report states. Not surprisingly, most of the visits came after usual business hours.
An increased patient load has also led to long wait times. The average waiting time to see an ER doctor neared an hourspecifically, 56 minutes.
Pharmaceutical companies also had reason to cheer. In 2006, seven out of 10 visits resulted in having at least one medication provided, prescribed or continued, for a total of 2.6 billion medications overall, the CDC said. Pain relievers were tops, accounting for 13.6%, and were most often used during primary-care and emergency department visits. -- by Matthew DoBias