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Boomers and Seniors Flock to Their Docs

Preventive care, chronic diseases behind rise in visits

(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)

MONDAY, Aug. 11, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Aging Americans are taking a more aggressive role in their health, and that translates into increasing numbers of visits to doctors for preventive care and treatment of chronic conditions.

The proof: There were 880.5 million visits to U.S. doctors' offices in 2001, and more than half of those patients were middle-aged or senior citizens, says a new government survey released Aug. 11.

While the number of people in the United States over age 45 rose 11 percent in the last decade, doctor visits by that age group increased 26 percent in the same time period.

The report, called the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, looks at medical care provided in physicians' offices. It was compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Other highlights of the report: Diagnostic and screening tests were up 28 percent from 1992 to 2001. And doctor visits that also included education or counseling, such as how to improve your diet, increased by 34 percent.

Catharine Burt is chief of the ambulatory care statistics branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and a co-author of the report. She says both baby boomers and seniors "are coming in for a lot of preventive care, a lot of renewal of [drug] prescriptions and checking of chronic conditions."

"Doctors are more aggressive in treating chronic disease," she adds, and that requires follow-up care.

The survey found the leading diagnoses during office visits in 2001 were for high blood pressure, arthritis and other joint problems, and the common cold. Diabetes was the primary diagnosis at 27 million of the doctor visits in 2001.

The survey also found that approximately one-third of all office visits were for chronic conditions; 35.3 percent for acute problems such as sudden illness; and 16.8 percent for preventive care.

The top five types of drugs prescribed in 2001 were for heart and kidney problems, pain, respiratory tract problems, hormones, and drugs for central nervous system problems.

Burt says another interesting finding was that house calls aren't dead. "One third of doctors in rural areas do house calls," she says. Nationwide, only about 18 percent of doctors say they make house calls.

E-mail consultations, the survey also found, aren't common between doctors and their patients. "Only 6 percent of doctors made any e-mail consultations," Burt says. And they didn't make frequent use of the e-mail messages, she adds.

The survey's findings make sense to Richard Levy, a pharmacologist and vice president of scientific affairs for the National Pharmaceutical Council, an industry group. "There's a greater awareness of illness," he says, "and not just manufactured illness but real illness."

The survey findings of increased use and prescription of drugs underscores the fact that Americans are more aware of the dangers of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, for instance, and are trying to get those conditions under control, Levy says.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on the general health of Americans, and the number of people who engage in healthy behaviors.

SOURCES: Catharine Burt, Ed.D., chief, ambulatory care statistics branch, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.; Richard Levy, Ph.D. vice president, scientific affairs, National Pharmaceutical Council, Reston, Va.; Aug. 11, 2003, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey
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