Characteristics of Office-based Physician Visits, 2015

Jill Ashman, Ph.D., Health Statistician

Questions for Jill Ashman, Ph.D., Health Statistician, and Lead Author of “Characteristics of Office-based Physician Visits, 2015

Q: What made you write this report on doctors’ office visits?

JA: Our intent in producing this data brief is to provide the annual summary of National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) data. Last year we created the format for this NAMCS summary report using 2014 data, and we are currently working on the 2016 summary. These summary reports provide a snapshot of the care provided at office-based physician offices.

Q: Was there a result in your study that surprised you?

JA:  While there is a notable finding in the report, generally the patterns are what we expected to find and are consistent with a similar report looking at office visits in 2014. One notable finding is the relatively low percentage of visits for preventive care among adults 18 years or older (21% for ages 18-64 and 13% for those aged 65 years or older).

Q: What differences or similarities did you see between or among various demographic groups, such as age and sex, in this analysis?

JA:  We noted a number of differences among various groups examined in this report. In terms of visit rates, we found that females visited the doctor’s office at a higher rate than males. We also found that the visit rate for infants and older adults exceeded the rates for those aged 1-64 years.

We also found age variation with primary expected sources of payment, the major reason for a doctor’s office visit, and for the services provided at the physician visit. Medicaid was the primary expected source of payment at a higher percentage of visits by children (38%) than adults, and Medicare was the primary expected source of payment at a higher percentage of visits by adults aged 65 and older (79%) compared with patients under 65 years. Having no insurance at all was at a higher percentage of visits by adults aged 18-64 (9%) than those aged 65 and over (2%). Also, compared with adults, a larger percentage of office visits by children were for either preventive care (33%) or a new problem (41%). Additionally, visits by children (compared with adults) were less likely to include a laboratory test, imaging service, or procedure that was ordered or provided. No variation by age was observed for office visits for an injury or that included an examination or screening service.

Q:  What is new in this report that has not already been published?

JA: This report provides the most recent nationally representative estimates of office-based physician visits in the United States. To our knowledge, age differences in the selected characteristics of patients accessing the doctor’s office in 2015 have not already been published.

Q: What sort of trend data do you have on this topic that will help us see how doctor’s office visits have evolved over time?

JA: With a number of years of data, we can look at trends over time by examining other National Center for Health Statistics reports. We released a similar report last year that looked at age variation in the same selected characteristics of office-based physician visits made in 2014. Comparing the results of both reports shows little change in the patterns of selected characteristics from 2014 to 2015. However, one notable change was an observed increase from 2014 to 2015 in the percentage of health education and counseling services ordered or provided overall and among the three age groups examined.

For older years of data, we provide detailed summary tables on our website going back as far as 2008 that can be used to help see how office-based physician visits have evolved over time. The summary tables can be found here.

Q: What would you say is the take-home message of this report?

JA: The take-home message from this report is that there is a wide variation by age in the characteristics of visits to office-based physicians in the United States in 2015. Larger differences were observed in the services ordered or provided and in the major reason for the office visit between children under 18 years and adults aged 18 or older.

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