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Decline in Physician Visits: What's Behind the Trend?

Nov 28, 2011, 1:00 PM, Posted by mtomlinson

New research suggests that physicians are seeing fewer patients than ever before, but the reason behind the trend remains unclear.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of patients in a hospital outpatient department seen by a physician assistant or advance practice nurse has increased by 50 percent in the last decade. It is especially common in settings with fewer physicians, like small, rural or teaching hospitals. At the same time, the percentage of visits attended only by physicians in hospital outpatient departments declined from 77 percent (in 2000-2001) to 72 percent (in 2008-2009).

Outside of the hospital, research shows similar declines in visits to doctors’ offices. But that shift may not be caused by the use of other health care providers; it may be a reflection of changes in how patients interact with the health care system. American Medical News reports that the trend may be caused by cost-conscious patients who are more methodical about addressing their health care needs. Efforts to reduce overall utilization of the health care system may also play a factor.

What do you think? Is there a decline in the number of patients seeing physicians? What do you think is behind the trend? Register below to leave a comment.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.