Patient volume bounces back

After about three years of reports that patients have been skimping on healthcare amid the economic downturn, visit volume in physician offices appears to be finally making a comeback, American Medical News reported.

A year ago, patient visit volume was suffering a nearly 9 percent decline, according to data from Parsippany, N.J.-based market research firm IMS Health, analyzed by Credit Suisse. But during the second quarter of 2012, patient visits were up almost 5 percent, according to a report from Credit Suisse investment analyst Charles Boorady.

The uptick was particularly pronounced for primary care physicians, with visits to family doctors, internists and OB/GYNs staying steady or rising since November 2011, according to data from Truven Health Analytics, formerly Thomson Reuters Healthcare. After a decline from February to April, pediatric visits rebounded in May and June 2012.

Despite these positive signs of recovery, the swelling numbers of visits may have gone unnoticed by primary care practices already pushing to keep up with demand. "It's not like they're sitting around waiting for patients to show up," Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told amednews.

There's also evidence to suggest that more patients are taking advantage of their insurers having already eliminated cost-sharing for preventive services under certain plans, noted an article in the Omaha World-Herald. An additional 17,000 people insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, for example, used at least one preventive service between April 2011 and March 2012 than in the same period a year earlier. The insurer also reported a more than 15 percent increase in immunizations administered, a nearly 6 percent bump in mammograms and a 19 percent rise in the number of cholesterol screenings. From 2010 to 2011, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa also saw a nearly 11 percent increase in the number of colorectal cancer screenings and a 10 percent increase in children's well visits.

With the aging of the population and full enactment of health reform on the horizon, Stream told amednews he expects to see a rise in demand for primary care services up to 2014 and beyond. But with more than a third of doctors planning to leave medicine within the next decade, practices will be forced to find smarter, more efficient ways to use their remaining resources to treat patients.

To learn more:
- read the article from American Medical News
- see the story from the Omaha World-Herald