Americans going to the doctor less often than they were at the start of the century

By | December 31, 2019

Doctors and hospitals generate revenue by treating the patients who walk through their doors, but if the statistics are any indication, fewer patients are making the trek, with U.S. Census Bureau figures showing Americans are making less trips to the doctor.

The data was culled from 2001 to 2010. At the beginning of this period, American adults made an average of 4.8 visits to doctors, nurses and other providers. Nine years later, that average was down to 3.9 visits. Those numbers come from the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

Dentists are often left in the cold, with respondents much less likely to make annual visits to a dentist than they are another medical provider, at 59% compared to 73%. Unsurprisingly, visits to providers become more frequent as a person ages, with 37% of adults between 18 and 24 skipping out on medical visits but only 8% of those older than 65 doing so.

About 42% of Hispanics went at least one full year without any kind of healthcare visit, making them the least likely ethnic group to see a provider. And men were less likely to see a provider than women, at 67% vs. 78%, respectively.


The numbers present something of a double-edged sword for the healthcare industry: While fewer visits mean fewer opportunities for collections, the numbers also suggest that patient engagement initiatives are doing their part to improve outcomes. With a hospital’s reimbursement based at least partially on clinical quality, this can be seen as an important development.

At the forefront of patient engagement efforts are technology platforms that motivate patients to take a more active role in their care, whether it be managing chronic conditions, scheduling wellness visits or maintaining prescriptions.

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In all, roughly two in three Americans said their health was “excellent” or “very good,” and about a quarter said it was “good.” Just 8% said it was “fair,” while 2% claimed it was “poor.”

The data on hospital stays seems to bear this out, with numbers showing 92% of respondents went an entire year without spending the night in the hospital. Only 1% spent eight or more nights.


According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded report from the Health Care Cost Institute published in March, there is wide variation in the commercial prices and utilization of the same healthcare services across U.S. cities and while prices are growing, use isn’t.

The report analyzed more than 1.8 billion commercial healthcare claims and data visualization to benchmark prices and use across 112 metropolitan areas from 2012 to 2016.

Researchers found one constant overarching trend: Over time, prices increased and use dropped. From 2012 to 2016, the median metro area saw a 13% spike in healthcare while utilization decreased 17%.

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