Patients using outpatient services more often

Patients have starting to see doctors more often and increase their use of several outpatient services. Although the increase has been small, it's particularly notable since it comes after a long two-year period of very muted medical utilization, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Despite the recent uptick in medical usage, patients still are avoiding expensive hospital stays as insurers work to shift care traditionally provided in inpatient settings to outpatient locations, suggesting that that the two-year slowdown was related to medical care that patients delayed but didn't plan to forego forever, The Washington Post Wonkblog reported.

Almost 33 percent of 2,500 consumers surveyed earlier this year by Wedbush Securities said they postponed or canceled medical care, such as knee surgeries, primarily because of high out-of-pocket costs. But many of those consumers are now planning to undergo those previously skipped services this year. Among the surveyed patients who delayed care, 29 percent said they would seek a delayed low-cost procedure by the end of the year, 6 percent said they would get an expensive procedure, and 11 percent said they would undergo both, the WSJ noted.

Part of that increased use of outpatient care, according to UnitedHealth and Aetna, stems from their efforts to move certain healthcare services out of traditional inpatient settings. "Some of that outpatient growth is purposeful on our part," Aetna's Chief Financial Officer Joe Zubretsky told the WSJ. UnitedHealth's program, for example, tests for heart attacks in a hospital's outpatient suite instead of a hospital's intensive-care unit.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article (subscription required)
- see the Washington Post Wonkblog article

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