Monday, September 22, 2008

Bueller? Bueller?

An article in the September 22nd Wall Street Journal commented on the effect the economy is having on some medical utilization – especially prescriptions and doctors’ visits.

One of the most worrisome phenomena of the U.S. health care environment has been high utilization and even over-utilization of health care services. So it’s not immediately clear that a reduction in utilization is ipso facto a bad thing. For some people, it surely is – and a few of those people were interviewed for this article. But is all reduction in utilization a bad thing? At best, that is an open question.

Two charts accompany the WSJ article. One shows that the rate of increase in prescriptions filled has steadily declined since 1999, and is now negative. The other shows that doctors visits have declined in absolute numbers by about 4% since 2007.

These charts got my attention.

One frequently hears the argument, both implicitly and explicitly, that fewer prescriptions filled and fewer physician visits must result in worsening health condition for our population. However, both charts show very sharp increases in prescriptions filled 1998-1999 and in physician visits 2003-2005. I seem to have missed the reporting of correspondingly sharp improvements in the health of our population during those periods.

Anyone have those stories that I missed? Anyone? Bueller?
blog comments powered by Disqus