Graham Center One-Pagers

Patterns of Visits to Physicians’ Offices, 1980 to 2003



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Am Fam Physician. 2005 Sep 1;72(5):762.

In the past quarter century, the number of office visits to physicians in the United States increased from 581 million per year to 838 million per year, with slightly more than one half of total visits since 1980 being made to primary care physicians. Most visits to primary care physicians were made to family physicians (FPs) and general practitioners (GPs) until the mid 1990s, when visits to general internists and general pediatricians exceeded visits to FPs and GPs.

Millions of people visit physicians’ offices in the United States each year. According to data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, there has been a large increase in such visits since 1980.1,2  From 1980 to 2003, the number of office visits made each year increased by more than 40 percent, from about 581 million to about 838 million (see accompanying table).2

Annual Visits to Physicians’ Offices, 1980 to 2003

Period Average number of visits per year (million): Percentage of total visits per specialty Primary care physicians* Other specialists
To all physicians To FPs and GPs FPs and GPs General internists General pediatricians

1980 to 1984

581

191

33

12

11

56

44

1985 to 1989

665

200

30

11

12

53

47

1990 to 1994

707

189

27

14

11

52

48

1995 to 1999

761

187

25

16

11

52

48

2000 to 2003

838

201

24

16

12

52

48


FP = family physician; GP = general practitioner.

*—FPs, GPs, general internists, and general pediatricians.

Information from reference 2.

Annual Visits to Physicians’ Offices, 1980 to 2003

View Table

Annual Visits to Physicians’ Offices, 1980 to 2003

Period Average number of visits per year (million): Percentage of total visits per specialty Primary care physicians* Other specialists
To all physicians To FPs and GPs FPs and GPs General internists General pediatricians

1980 to 1984

581

191

33

12

11

56

44

1985 to 1989

665

200

30

11

12

53

47

1990 to 1994

707

189

27

14

11

52

48

1995 to 1999

761

187

25

16

11

52

48

2000 to 2003

838

201

24

16

12

52

48


FP = family physician; GP = general practitioner.

*—FPs, GPs, general internists, and general pediatricians.

Information from reference 2.

During the past quarter century, more than one half of all visits made to physicians’ offices in the United States were to primary care physicians. Although the overall number of visits to physicians has increased, the proportion of these visits made to primary care physicians, while remaining greater than 50 percent, has declined since 1980. This corresponds with a decline in the proportion of visits made to FPs and GPs during this period. The proportion of visits made to FPs and GPs declined by about 9 percentage points, whereas the proportion of visits made to the offices of general internists and other specialists increased by about 4 percentage points, and there was little change in the proportion of visits made to general pediatricians.

These shifts could influence health outcomes for the population and overall health care costs, and threaten the sustainability of the U.S. health care system.3

REFERENCES

1. Green LA, Dodoo MS, Ruddy G, Fryer GE, Phillips RL, McCann JL, et al. The physician workforce of the United States: a family medicine perspective. Washington, D.C.: Robert Graham Center, 2004.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Analysis by the Robert Graham Center, 2004.

3. Starfield B, Shi L, Grover A, Macinko J. The effects of specialist supply on populations’ health: assessing the evidence. Accessed online August 5, 2005, at: http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/hlthaff.w5.97v1?ct.

note: The information and opinions contained in research from the Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of the AAFP.

Adapted from the Graham Center One-Pager #35. Dodoo MS, Fryer GE, Green LA, Phillips RL, Ruddy GR, McCann JL, et al. Patterns of visits to physicians’ offices in the United States, 1980 to 2003. September 2005. Available online at http://www.graham-center.org/onepager35.xml. From the Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, 1350 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 201, Washington, DC 20036 (telephone: 202-331-3360; fax: 202-331-3374; e-mail: policy@aafp.org).

 


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