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Is America Getting Its Money’s Worth out of Outpatient Care?

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Article by Darlene Oakley

In 2006, a McKinsey & Company study found that the United States spent more on outpatient care than any other health care system component to the tune of $680 billion – more than 41 percent of overall health care spending (TheIncidentalEconomist) and more than double what is “normal” based on gross domestic product, or GDP.

The amount a country spends on health care is governed by per capita GDP, which is the “monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period…usually calculated on an annual basis” (Investopedia).

The philosophy behind the shift to outpatient care was to divert patients out of hospitals for initial treatment, follow-up or rehabilitation, thereby saving health care insurance companies money, patients’ and businesses time and money, and paying physicians and health care providers sooner.

Since the United States is spending nearly double what it was in 2003 and is well ahead of other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in its health care spending, you have to wonder if all this money is really having any effect on lowering fatality rates, emergency room visits, and hospital readmittance relating to treatments or conditions for which patients were discharged.

Studying the Statistics

The following information was adapted from the 2004 report “Health Care in America Trends in Utilization” published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Center for Health Statistics accessed through the CDC website:

“Between 1992–93 and 1999–2000, the rate of [emergency department] visits because of adverse effects [of prior medical treatment] almost doubled, from 2.7 per 1,000 persons to 4.8 per 1,000 persons…These visits were
equally divided between complications of medical or surgical care and adverse drug reactions. In 1999–2000, about 13 percent of these visits resulted in a subsequent hospital admission.”

“During 1999–2000, [those] 65–74 years of age made 60 percent more

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