Doctor Visits Are Down in US

information, medical
Doctor with clipboard (Image credit: Kurhan | Dreamstime)

American adults made fewer trips to the doctor in 2010 than they did 10 years before, a report from the Census Bureau found.

Compared with an average of 4.8 visits to medical providers in 2001, adults age 18 to 64 made about 3.9 visits to the doctor in 2010. And among those with at least one visit, the average number of trips dropped from an average of 6.4 to 5.4 over that decade.

The report, based on the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation, found most Americans consider themselves healthy. About two-thirds (66 percent) reported that they were in "excellent" or "very good" health. Meanwhile, twenty-four percent described their health as "good," 8 percent said it was "fair" and 2 percent said their condition was "poor."

But all groups reported less visits to the doctor in 2010, even those in "fair" and "poor" health, whose average number of annual visits dipped from 12.9 to 11.6 over the ten-year period.

"The decline in the use of medical services was widespread, taking place regardless of health status," Brett O'Hara, a health statistics official with the Census Bureau, said in a statement.

Americans who considered themselves healthy were less likely to visit a doctor, but they were more likely to see a dentist than their worse-off peers, the report found. Thirty-five percent of those in excellent health went to the dentist twice in 2010, compared with 12 percent of their poor-health counterparts.

Among Americans under 65, those in worse health were more likely to be uninsured, the report found. Twenty-three percent of those in poor health did not have health insurance, compared with 16 percent of those in excellent health. More than a quarter of uninsured adults saw a doctor or dentist in 2010. Among them, 13 percent went to an emergency room, 10 percent visited a hospital, while 20 percent received free services and 30 percent got a discount on services, the report found.

Women were more likely than men (78 to 67 percent) to have visited a medical provider in 2010 and Hispanics were the least likely racial and ethnic group to go to the doctor. Meanwhile, black Americans were more likely to consider their condition to be fair or poor (13 percent) than whites (10 percent) or Hispanics (9 percent), the report found.

And the greater the income of an individual's family, the more likely that person was to go to the doctor. Over 38 percent of Americans living under the poverty line did not see a medical provider in 2010, compared with 19 percent of people whose family income was four times the poverty threshold or greater, according to the Census Bureau.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.