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Am Fam Physician. 2005;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

PeriodAverage number of visits per year (million):Percentage of total visits per specialtyPrimary care physicians*Other specialists
To all physiciansTo FPs and GPsFPs and GPsGeneral internistsGeneral pediatricians
1980 to 19845811913312115644
1985 to 19896652003011125347
1990 to 19947071892714115248
1995 to 19997611872516115248
2000 to 20038382012416125248

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

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

This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, deputy editor.

A collection of Graham Center Policy One-Pagers published in AFP is available at https://www.aafp.org/afp/graham. One-Pagers are also available at https://www.graham-center.org.

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