CDC: Office visits increasingly concentrated on patients 45 and older

If your practice isn't highly attuned in to the needs of patients over 45, it's time to get with the program.

According to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, this age group has been ratcheting up its physician office visits for the past decade. And with health reform set to insure millions more, including aging baby boomers, this trend will only continue. If history is any indication, tomorrow's doctors will spend more practice time dedicated to caring for older Americans, particularly ordering tests and prescriptions and managing chronic conditions.

According to the report, physician office visits by those ages 45 and over accounted for 57 percent in 2008, up from 49 percent in 1998. During this period, the percentage of the 45-plus population increased from 33 percent to 38 percent, but rising visit rates among this age group also contributed to increased concentration of visits on older patients.

Meanwhile, patients ages 45 and over increased their share of:

  • Total medications prescribed or continued from 60 to 70 percent
  • Imaging tests ordered or provided from 52 to 66 percent (jumping from 26 to 36 percent among those ages 45 to 64)
  • Total time spent with a physician from 50 to 59 percent

For the same age group, physician visits became increasingly concentrated on care provided by medical and surgical specialists and less on care provided by primary-care practitioners (although 30-year data for patients 65 and over shows a decline in visits to primary-care specialists).

Patients ages 65 and over saw a 13 percent increase in visit rate during the same decade, keeping pace with their middle-aged counterparts. However, the visit rate where medications were prescribed or continued increased by 31 percent (from 4.2 to 5.5 visits per person) from 1998 to 2008.

Visits for patients over 65 also became more focused on management of chronic conditions such as hypertension, coronary atherosclerosis and diabetes. In particular, the number of visits increased for disorders of lipoid metabolism by 150 percent, for cardiac dysrhythmias by 139 percent, for essential hypertension by 62 percent and for diabetes mellitus by 45 percent. Some of these conditions were also top reasons for visit increases among the group ages 45 to 64, according to the report.

To learn more:
- read the report from the NCHS