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America's Health Care in Numbers

CDC Data Paint Surprising Picture of How Americans Get Health Care
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

-- Mark Twain

Aug. 6, 2008 -- Politicians love to talk about America's health care system. But what are they talking about?

Even if you think you know what health care is like in the U.S., you may be in for a surprise. The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics has just released the latest facts and figures on American health care. The latest year included in the reports is 2006.

Here's a sample of the smorgasbord of health care facts contained in the reports, presented in a style borrowed from Harper's Index. All of the data are from National Health Statistics Reports released on Aug. 6, 2006, or July 30, 2008.

Seeing a Doctor

Growth of walk-in visits to doctors' offices and hospital outpatient and emergency departments in the decade 1996-2006: +26%

Growth of the U.S. population in that time: +11%

Percentage of walk-in medical visits that result in a prescription for medication: 71.6

Total number of prescriptions written for walk-in patients in 2006: 2,600,000,000

First, second, and third most frequently prescribed types of drug: heart/blood-pressure drugs, painkillers, asthma/lung-disease drugs

Most common diagnosis during walk-in health-care visits: high blood pressure

Percentage of health-care visits for routine health or pregnancy check-ups: 18.3

Percentage change, 1996-2006, in adult visits to hospital outpatient departments for diabetes: +43%

Percentage change, 1996-2006, in adult visits to hospital outpatient departments for chronic high blood pressure: +51%

Percentage of doctors' office visits for preventive care: 19.2

Percentage change in white Americans' visits to medical specialists, 1996-2006: +28%

Percentage change in African-Americans' visits to medical specialists, 1996-2006: 0

Percentage change in white Americans' visits to emergency departments, 1996-2006: +17%

Percentage change in African-Americans' visits to emergency departments, 1996-2006: +40%

Percentage of medical visits made to private doctors' offices in ZIP codes where fewer than 20% of residents are below the poverty level: 81.7

Percentage of medical visits made to private doctors' offices in ZIP codes where more than 40% of residents are below the poverty level: 54.2

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