Between the ages of 55 and 64, chronic illnesses become more common and the use of ambulatory and inpatient health care increases, compared with younger ages. This segment of the population is projected to grow rapidly during the next 10 years, driven by the aging of the baby boom generation.

The current population aged 55-64 differs in health status and prevalence of disease risk factors from past cohorts of adults aged 55-64. In 2006, adults in this age range were more likely to be obese and hypertensive than their counterparts about a decade earlier, but both cohorts were just as likely to exercise regularly, and the 2006 group was slightly less likely to smoke cigarettes.

Because of continuing advances in medicine, the 2006 cohort has had more opportunity to take advantage of drugs, tests, imaging, procedures, and surgeries than its 1996 counterpart.

This report, compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, examine how health care utilization has changed for persons aged 55-64 – a group that is about to enter the Medicare program, and which has been a recent focus of the health care policy debate. Examining the utilization patterns for this large and growing group may offer insight into policy debates and Medicare beneficiaries’ health care utilization in the future.

Increasing care visits

Ambulatory surgery visit rates were 66 percent higher in 2006 than in 1994-1996, though inpatient hospitalization rates were similar in 2006 and 1996. Hospital emergency department (ED) visit rates were 19 percent higher in 2006 than in 1996. Physician office and hospital outpatient department (OPD) visit rates were 13 percent higher in 2006 than in 1996.

Use of ultrasound or MRI/CT/PET scans increased substantially in ambulatory settings over the past 10 years; the percentage of physician office and outpatient department (OPD) visits with an ultrasound or MRI/CT/PET scan ordered or provided during the visit was higher in 2006 than in 1996, while the percentage of these visits with an X-ray ordered or provided during the visit was lower.

A greater percentage of emergency department visitors had a blood test (17 percent), ultrasound (2 percent), or MRI/CT scan (12 percent) ordered or provided during visits in 2006 than in 1996.

Growing prescription drug use

The percentage of physician office and OPD visits with at least one drug ordered, provided, or continued during the visit was 18 percent higher in 2006 than in 1996. The percentage with at least three drugs recorded during the visit was nearly twice as high in 2006, and the percentage with at least five drugs recorded was nearly three times as high. In contrast, the percentage of visits to ERs with at least one, at least three, or at least five drugs ordered, provided, or continued during the visit was similar in 2006 and 1996.

The percentage of adults with any prescription drug use in the month before interview was 17 percent higher in 2003-2006 than in 1988-1994. The percentage with at least three prescription drugs was nearly twice as high, and the percentage with at least five prescription drugs was more than twice as high.

Trends in health care utilization among those 55-64 years old reflect a general trend in the increasing use of ambulatory care, newer technologies, imaging, procedures, and drugs. A similar shift to greater use of ambulatory care has been reported for care for chronic conditions. In one decade, the shift of the locus of care from inpatient to ambulatory settings has been dramatic. These findings demonstrate the rapid evolution of the health care system, which has affected the care received by people 55-64 years old, as well as those in other age groups.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics