WEDNESDAY, Aug. 6, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Americans made about 1.1 billion visits to physician offices and hospital outpatient and emergency departments in 2006, which works out to an average of four visits per person per year, according to statistics released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the findings, from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics National Health Care Survey:
- The number of visits to physician offices and hospital outpatient and emergency departments increased by 26 percent from 1996 to 2006. That's faster than the growth of the U.S. population, which rose by 11 percent. Part of the increase is due to the aging of the population.
- In 2006, medications were provided, prescribed or continued in seven out of 10 visits, for a total of 2.6 billion medications. Analgesics (pain relievers) were the most common. They accounted for 13.6 percent of all drugs prescribed and were most often used during primary care and emergency department visits.
- The emergency department served as the route of admission to hospital inpatient services for roughly 50 percent of non-obstetric hospital patients in 2006, compared with 36 percent in 1996.
- Medicaid patients use the emergency department more frequently (82 per 100 people) than patients with private insurance (21 per 100 people).
- Most emergency department visits occurred after business hours, defined as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Sixty-three percent of adults and 73 percent of children younger than age 15 arrived after business hours. The overall average waiting time to see a physician in the emergency department was almost 56 minutes.
- Between 1996 and 2006, there was a 43 percent increase in visits to hospital outpatient departments made by adults 18 years and over with chronic diabetes and a 51 percent increase in visits for chronic high blood pressure.
The American College of Emergency Physicians outlines when people should go to the emergency department.