Dynamic Chiropractic – August 13, 2007, Vol. 25, Issue 17

The Trend Is Going the Wrong Way

By Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher

The latest figures1 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggest Americans are increasing the amount of medical care and drugs they use. Needless to say, the number of adverse medical events also is increasing.

Just look at these statistics:

  • "Patients in the United States made an estimated 1.2 billion visits to physician offices and hospital OPDs [hospital outpatient departments] and EDs [hospital emergency departments], a rate of 4.0 visits per person annually."
  • "Between 1995 and 2005, population visit rates increased by about 20% in primary care offices, surgical care offices, and OPDs; 37% in medical specialty offices; and 7% in EDs."
  • "The leading treatment provided at ambulatory care visits was medicinal with 71.3 percent of all visits having one or more medications prescribed, up by 10% since 1995 when encounters with drug therapy represented 64.9 percent of all visits."
  • "In 2005, 2.4 billion medications were prescribed or administered at these visits."
  • "Approximately 27.3 percent of medications prescribed or administered at ambulatory care visits in nonemergency settings were for new prescriptions, whereas 72.7 percent were for continued prescriptions."
  • "The rate of ED visits for adverse effects of medical treatment among seniors increased from 4.9 per 1,000 persons in 1992 to 14.2 per 1,000 persons in 2005."

In essence, Americans are visiting their medical physician or hospital outpatient facility a lot more often than they did 10 years ago - literally four times a year, on average. Part of this increase is considered the result of our aging population. When they do make such visits, more than 70 percent of the "ambulatory care" visits (approximately 90 percent of all visits) result in at least one drug prescription. Remember, the average person makes four visits a year.

Because of their drug-oriented focus, America's medical practitioners are prescribing or administering 2.4 billion drugs per year. This works out to an average of almost eight prescriptions for every man, woman and child in the U.S. every year. And if that statistic isn't startling enough, consider that it does not include over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, which, needless to say, push that number much higher.

And if you're like I am, you know there are people who are trying to live life under the influence of 16 drug prescriptions each year. They have to, in order to keep the average at eight prescriptions, because I don't take any!

As I read through the HHS re-port, I noted the top three "drugs" by classification in 2005. While you probably won't be surprised by the drug classes, even I was shocked - and horrified - by the sheer number prescribed/administered during a single year:

Class of Drug # Prescribed/Administered*
Antidepressants 117,813,000
Antihypertensive Agents 113,078,000
NSAIDs 110,014,000
*During ambulatory care visits (nonemergency settings)

This paints a sad but accurate picture of the health of most medically-oriented American patients. (By the way, coming in at 13th on the list are "vitamins or minerals," with 74,508,000 prescriptions per year. This works out to only one vitamin prescription for every four people in the U.S.)

The increase in medical visits and drug prescriptions has resulted in 10.8 million visits for the "adverse effects of medical treatment" per year. While this seems to be a relatively small percentage of total visits (1 percent), it represents an alarming impact on the health of millions of people. Hopefully, this statistic should add to the growing awareness of the risks inherent in a medical, drug-oriented approach to health.

People have choices when it comes to managing their health. They can choose to lead a wellness lifestyle or they can turn to drugs (and then more drugs to manage the side effects of the first round of drugs). That's an important decision with important consequences, and it should be clear by now that chiropractic has an important role to play.

We need to enlighten people about what true health really is. They need to understand the concept of wellness and recognize that it doesn't come from a drug. This should be an easy conversation with those who have had or know someone who has had a drug reaction or an adverse medical event.

Every year, American doctors of chiropractic see an estimated 15 million patients. While that's only 5 percent of the U.S. population, it is a very significant number. If we took the time to educate each patient and they told just a few friends and family members, we could begin to move people away from the medical drug model. This also would awaken more people to the value of chiropractic.

A little something to think about this week as you see your patients.


  1. Burt CW, McCaig LF, Rechtsteiner EA. Ambulatory Medical Care Utilization Estimates for 2005. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Released June 29, 2007.


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