Ambulatory Care Among Young Adults in the United States

Ann Intern Med. 2009 Sep 15;151(6):379-85. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-151-6-200909150-00002.


Background: Young adults are the most likely age group to be uninsured and have the highest prevalence of substance abuse, motor vehicle accidents, and sexually transmitted diseases, yet little is known about their use of ambulatory care.

Objective: To characterize ambulatory care of young adults.

Design: Cross-sectional data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

Setting: Community and hospital-based clinics.

Patients: Nonpregnant young adults age 20 to 29 years.

Measurements: Ambulatory care utilization, types of visits, and preventive care.

Results: Insured young adults had more visits (2.16 [95% CI, 2.14 to 2.19] annual visits per capita) than those without insurance (0.59 [CI, 0.54 to 0.67] annual visits per capita). Young men utilized ambulatory medical care less than adolescents age 15 to 19 years or older adults age 30 to 39 years (1.10, 1.65, and 1.73 annual visits per capita, respectively) and had lower rates of utilization than young women (1.10 vs. 2.31 annual visits per capita). Young black and Hispanic men had considerably fewer annual visits per capita (0.75 and 0.65, respectively) than did young white men (1.21). Young men had nearly one half the preventive care visits compared with male adolescents or older men (0.11, 0.24, and 0.19 annual visits per capita, respectively) and less than one quarter the visits compared with young women (0.11 vs. 0.48 annual visits per capita). Only 30.6% of visits by young adults included any preventive counseling, and few encounters included counseling directed toward injury prevention (2.4%), mental health (4.1%), or sexually transmitted diseases (2.7%).

Limitation: School-based clinics were not included, and counseling may be underreported.

Conclusion: Young adults use less ambulatory medical care relative to other groups and infrequently receive preventive care directed at the greatest threats to their health. Efforts to ensure appropriate preventive care are needed.

Primary funding source: None.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Ambulatory Care / economics
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health*
  • Male
  • Medically Uninsured*
  • Preventive Health Services / economics
  • Preventive Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Young Adult