In dental marketing surveys, dentists have told The Wealthy Dentist that they believe dental patients are visiting the dentist less than they did 10 years ago.
Dentists were trying to determine if this decline was due to the economy, dental insurance changes, or the location of their dental practice.
As it turns out, what dentists seemed to be experiencing was happening throughout the healthcare sector.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released the Health Status, Health Insurance, and Medical Services Utilization: 2010 Household Economic Studies report which seems to confirm what dentists have been seeing at their dental practices.
The periodic report examines the relationship between the use of medical services, health status, health insurance coverage, and other demographic and economic characteristics.
Here’s what the report found:
In 2010, working-age adults made an average of 3.9 visits to doctors, nurses or other medical providers, down from 4.8 in 2001. Among those with at least one such visit, the average number of visits also declined, from 6.4 to 5.4 over the period.
According to the report, most Americans consider themselves to be quite healthy: nearly two in three (66%) reported their health as being either “excellent” or “very good.”
Another 24% said their health was “good,” while 8% described it as “fair” and 2% as “poor.” Non-Hispanic blacks were more likely to consider their health to be fair or poor (13%) than non-Hispanic whites (10%) or Hispanics (9%).
“The decline in the use of medical services was widespread, taking place regardless of health status,” said Brett O’Hara, chief of the Census Bureau’s Health and Disability Statistics Branch.
For instance, among working-age adults who reported that their health was either fair or poor, the average number of annual visits dropped from 12.9 to 11.6 over the 2001 to 2010 period.
The corresponding numbers fell from 5.3 to 4.2 visits for those reporting good health and from 3.2 to 2.5 among those who said their health was excellent or very good.
Other highlights from the news release on the report:
Visits to a medical provider or dentist
Respondents were much less likely to visit a dentist at least once in the last year than a medical provider: 59% compared with 73%.
Medical provider visits become more likely with age, as 37% of young adults 18 to 24 did not visit a provider at all during the year, compared with 8% of those 65 and older.
Hispanics were the least likely racial or ethnic group to see a medical provider, as 42% never visited one during the year.
Women were more likely than men to have visited a medical provider during the year (78% compared with 67%).
Spending a night in a hospital is a rare event: 9% of the population did not spend a night in a hospital during the previous year, and only 1% spent eight or more nights. The chances of spending no nights in the hospital ranged from 96% for children to 83% for people 65 and older.
More than half of the population (57%) did not take prescription medication at any point during the previous year, while 35% reported taking it regularly.
While 80% of older adults (those 65 and older) reported regular prescription medication use, the same was true for 13% of children.
In general, self-rated health declines with age: more than half of children are in excellent health (59%) compared with 9% of those 65 or older.
While adults with excellent health were less likely to visit a medical provider at least once than those with poor health (68% compared with 94%), the opposite was true for dental visits. 35% of those in excellent health visited the dentist twice during the year, compared with 12% in poor health.
There is a “U-shaped” relationship between health status and having any type of health insurance coverage. Among all people who reported excellent health, 85% were insured, compared with 80% with good health and 85% whose health was poor.
Among uninsured adults who visited a medical provider or dentist during the year, 13% visited an emergency room and 10% visited a hospital (excluding the emergency room), while 20% received free services and 30% received a discount on services.
In 2010, 21% of uninsured adults in poor health received routine check-ups, compared with 12% of all uninsured adults.
People under 65 whose health was poor, fair or good were more likely to be uninsured (23%, 25% and 24%, respectively) than those with very good or excellent health (20% and 16%, respectively).
To read the report, go to Health Status, Health Insurance, and Medical Services Utilization: 2010 Household Economic Studies (opens in a pdf).
What have you seen at your dental practice? Do you think dental patient visits are on the decline?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.