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Less Than Half of Acute Care Visits to Family Physician


Less than half of the 354 million annual health care visits for acute care are made to the individual’s personal physician, according to a newly published paper in Health Affairs.

Stephen R. Pitts, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Emory University. and colleagues analyzed data from three federal surveys on ambulatory-care delivery from the National Center for Health Statistics. There were 354 million annual visits for acute care from 2001 to 2004.

These acute care visits included complaints such as stomach and abdominal pain, chest pain, and fever.

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Only 45% of the 354 million annual visits analyzed were made to a patients’ personal physician. This included 22% by general/family practitioners, 13% by general pediatricians, and 10% by general internists.

The other 55% were made to emergency departments (28%), specialists (20%), or outpatient departments (7%).

The researchers noted that more than half of acute care visits by uninsured patients were to emergency rooms. Two-thirds of acute-care visits to emergency departments took place on weekends or on a weekday after office hours. These non-insured acute care visits increase the workload of ER staff and add to hospital costs.

A separate study concluded that about $4.4 billion a year could be saved if the following conditions, among others, were shifted to retail clinics and urgent care centers: strains, fractures, back pain, skin problems, stomach pains, headaches, urinary tract infections, psychiatric conditions, lower-respiratory conditions, conjunctivitis and insect bites.


Where Americans Get Acute Care: Increasingly, It’s Not At Their Doctor’s Office
; Stephen R. Pitts, Emily R. Carrier, Eugene C. Rich and Arthur L. Kellermann; Health Affairs, 29, no. 9 (2010): 1620-1629; doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2009.1026