Physicians See Decline in Patient Visits in 2011

An IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics survey released April 4 shows a drop in physician office visits and prescription use. As patients struggle with high deductibles, co-pays, and general economic issues they are more likely to ask their physician about cheaper alternatives for tests and prescriptions, or to find other alternatives rather than seeing their doctor.

IMS’ report findings are similar to reports from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Chase health industry analyst John Rex. Their reports also found a decline in office visits. Another survey report, released November 2011 by Commonwealth Fund, said 42 percent of “sicker” adults had more cost-related access problems than in the previous year.

IMS’ report found that from 2010 to 2011:

  • Retail pharmacy prescription spending declined 1.1 percent.
  • Prescription spending by insured patients ages 19-25 went up 2 percent.
  • Patients 65 and older spent 3.1 percent less out-of-pocket for prescriptions.
  • Ages 65-69 had the biggest prescription decline, with a 4.3 percent drop.
  • The biggest prescription decline was for those treating hypertension.
  • Non-emergency hospital admissions declined 0.1 percent.
  • Emergency admissions went up 7.4 percent.

The increase in emergency admissions is an indicator that patients are reluctant to seek medical treatment from their physician office or to take medications because of financial concerns. Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation said, “It suggests people are putting off care, and they’re showing up sicker.”

According to the survey, here are the statistics showing the number of office visit changes from prior years:

2002 – 1,503,225,000: 2.7%

2003 – 1,589,694,000: 5.8%

2004 – 1,565,978,000: -1.5%

2005 – 1,654,375,000: 5.6%

2006 – 1,670,502,000: 1.0%

2007 – 1,624,189,000: -2.8%

2008 – 1,627,786,000: 0.2%

2009 – 1,602,354,000: -1.6%

2010 – 1,535,506,000: -4.2%

2011 – 1,468,265,000: -4.7%

Advice for Physicians Who are Seeing a Decline

According to an article, here’s what physicians can do to make it more likely that financially strapped patients will follow advice for prevention and treatment:

  • Explain the value of the recommended medication, test, or procedure even if the patient doesn’t ask. Barry Make, MD, a pulmonologist with National Jewish Health in Denver, said, “Patients will only do something if they understand what it is for, but patients are often reluctant or ashamed or embarrassed to ask.”
  • Make it clear that some negotiation is possible if cost is a significant concern. For example, see a patient every four months rather than every three.
  • Steer patients to lower-cost prescription resources and write prescriptions for drugs to be filled cheaper at big pharmacies.
  • Guide patients to drug assistance programs or discount programs.

Source: IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics “The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2011


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One Response to “Physicians See Decline in Patient Visits in 2011”

  1. Sally says:

    We’re a small family practice and are definitely seeing this trend. Our visits are down, and our patient responsibilty aged receivable is up. This is not a good trend, and I blame the insurance companies. We are not seeing higher reimbursement, yet patients are having to pay more and more out of pocket. Health plans being offered by their employers, (because of insurance company premium increases), have higher and higher deductibles, so patients are not following physicians advice and getting the treatments they prescribe. It’s a big mess!

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