Census report: Americans are going to the doctor less; women are still primary healthcare consumers

Nearly 73 percent of Americans visited a medical provider in 2010, but they went significantly less often than they did 10 years ago.

A new report of Census Bureau data (PDF) issued yesterday examined relationships between Americans’ health statuses, insurance coverage, demographic characteristics and use of healthcare services using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. It found that the average adult between the ages of 18 and 64 went to a medical provider an average of 3.9 times in 2010, compared with the 4.8 times the average adult went in 2001.

“The decline in the use of medical services was widespread, taking place regardless of health status,” said Brett O’Hara, chief of the Census Bureau’s Health and Disability Statistics Branch.



Reduced visits to the doctor most likely have to do with rising healthcare costs that have affected both insured and uninsured Americans. The report doesn’t address this directly, but other Census data tells us that 14.6 percent of Americans were uninsured in 2001, versus 16.3 percent in 2010. It does tell us that those without insurance were less likely to see a doctor than those with it, and the percentage of uninsured Americans who visited a medical provider dropped from more than 28 percent 10 years ago to less than 25 percent in 2010.

In the data, income level was also correlated with visits to providers. Among people living in poverty, 38.6 percent went without seeing a medical provider, compared with 19.1 percent whose family income was at least 400 percent of the poverty threshold.

But fewer medical visits could also be due to other forces in healthcare over the last decade, like the push toward preventive and coordinated care. “We don’t have data that can specifically pinpoint anything,” said Jason Koma, spokesman for the Ohio State Medical Association, who had not seen the report. But in addition to changes in insurance, we’re also starting to see “a big shift from volume-based delivery to one that is based to care coordination,” he noted.

The new report also reaffirms that women were the biggest healthcare consumers in 2010: women were more likely than men to visit a medical provider, visit a dentist, take prescription medications and use prescriptions regularly.

Here are a few other interesting points from the report:

  • Two-thirds of Americans reported excellent or very good health in 2010, with just over 10 percent reporting fair or poor health.
  • Half of Americans took prescription medications at some point; 41 percent took them all year.
  • An overnight visit to the hospital is rare – 92.4 of Americans didn’t do it in 2010.
  • Americans were less likely to visit a dentist than medical provider: 58.7 percent reported a dentist visit in 2010.
  • People with poor, fair or good health were more likely to be uninsured than those with very good or excellent health.

[Chart from the Health Status, Health Insurance, and Medical Services Utilization: 2010 report]

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