Recession Likely Cause of Drop in Doctor Visits, Prescription Medications

Apr 30, 2012, 1:20 PM

Americans visited their doctors less often and took fewer medications in 2011, according to a study released this month by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. The likely cause: financial pressures.

The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2011” finds the total number of physician office visits declined 4.7 percent in 2011, the fourth decline in five years. Non-emergency room hospital admissions also declined slightly (by 0.1 percent), but emergency room admissions increased (7.4 percent), “the possible result of continued high levels of uninsured patients associated with long-term unemployment,” the study says.

It also finds changes in medication utilization. While seniors remained the largest users of medications, their use of retail prescriptions fell by 3.1 percent. Young people, age 19 to25, however, increased their prescription use by 2 percent. They were the only age group to increase their drug utilization in 2011, perhaps as a result of the provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows them to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26.

The drop in per-capita use of prescriptions may be due in part to combination pills and 90-day, rather than 30-day, prescriptions, American Medical News reports, but “researchers believe strained finances are the most significant factor.”

“The end of the recession has not delivered recovery to many people,” Michael Kleinrock, director of research development at IMS and the primary author of the study, told American Medical News. “Patients are spreading out repeat visits and self-medicating with over-the-counter drugs.”

Read the study.

Read a news release about the study.

Read the American Medical News story.

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