Objective: This report describes ambulatory care visits made to physician offices in the United States. Statistics are presented on selected characteristics of the physician's practice, the patient, and the visit. This report also highlights visits to primary care specialties.
Methods: The data presented in this report were collected from the 2002 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS). NAMCS is a part of the ambulatory care component of the National Health Care Survey that measures health care utilization across various types of providers. NAMCS is a national probability sample survey of visits to office-based physicians in the United States. Sample data are weighted to produce annual national estimates. Selected trends from 1992, 1993, 1995, and 1997 are also presented.
Results: During 2002, an estimated 890 million visits were made to physician offices in the United States, an overall rate of 314.4 visits per 100 persons. From 1992 through 2002, the visit rate for persons 45 years of age and over increased by 14%, from 407.3 to 465.8 visits per 100 persons. The visit rate to physician offices in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) (337.3 visits per 100 persons) was significantly larger than the rate in non-MSAs (221.9 visits per 100 persons). For one-half of all office visits, regardless of specialty, physicians indicated they were the patient's primary care physician (PCP). Of the visits to physicians other than the patient's PCP, about one-third (31.1 percent) were referrals. New patients, representing 12.1 percent of the visits in 2002, are down 18% since 1992. Primary care specialists provided 90 percent of all preventive care visits. Essential hypertension, acute upper respiratory infection, diabetes mellitus, and arthropathies were the leading illness-related primary diagnoses. There were an estimated 104.0 million injury-related visits in 2002, or 36.7 visits per 100 persons. On average, 2.3 medications were ordered or provided at each office visit with any mention of a medication. The leading therapeutic class for drugs mentioned at office visits included nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (4.9 mentions per 100 visits) and antidepressants (4.5 mentions per 100 visits). Of primary care specialists, 25.8 percent reported not accepting new patients who are Medicaid enrollees.