Saturday, June 24, 2006

In U.S., Medical Visits Rose 31 Percent From 1994 to 2004

Americans are seeking medical care in greater numbers than ever before, with the number of visits growing at nearly three times the rate of population growth, according to government statistics published yesterday.

People made more than 1 billion visits in 2004 to doctors' offices, emergency rooms and hospital outpatient departments, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is an increase of 31 percent from 10 years before, while the population grew only 11 percent during the same time, according to the center, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly half of the 1.1 billion visits were to primary-care doctors in office-based practices. Another 18 percent were to medical specialists, and 16 percent were to surgical specialists. Ten percent were to emergency departments.

Medicaid patients, those with no health insurance and charity cases used hospitals more, and the average waiting time at emergency rooms, which by federal law must take in everyone who comes, increased significantly, the report found.

"The amount of time a patient waits before seeing a physician in the emergency department increased from 38 minutes in 1997 to 47 minutes in 2004," the CDC said.

"There was no change in the average time -- about 16 minutes -- a patient spends face to face with a doctor in an office visit," the report said.

The most common diagnosis was high blood pressure, seen in 42 million visits, the CDC said. Diagnoses of diabetes rose by 117 percent, and diagnoses of spinal disorders rose by 94 percent.

Chinese Researcher Denies Attempt To Retract Report on Avian Flu

A researcher who reported that a Chinese man may have died from avian flu before anyone else in China was known to have the disease denied he tried to have the report retracted, according to the journal that published the report.

Wu Chun Cao of the State Key Laboratory of Pathogens and Biosecurity in Beijing told the New England Journal of Medicine that e-mails bearing his name sent to the journal were not written or sent by him.

The authenticity of the letter sent to the journal reporting the case is considered crucial because it reinforces suspicions that there were more -- and earlier -- human bird flu cases in China than Beijing has admitted.

On Wednesday, the journal said it had received an e-mail signed with the researcher's name that requested that the letter reporting the case be withdrawn from publication. Wu has since telephoned the journal's editors and sent a fax denying he made any such request.

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