Patient spending and consumption of healthcare services and medicines increased in 2013, according to a new study.

The IMS Institute of Healthcare Informatics published its annual survey of healthcare consumption this month, and found that in 2013 overall spending on healthcare services in some categories experienced double digit growth, although some areas, such as emergency room services, declined.

If the research is correct, the trend of increased consumption of healthcare services began well before the individual insurance mandate and Medicaid expansion took effect. While it is too soon to know the impact of increased insurance coverage on healthcare spending, IMS’s research indicates that even without expanded insurance, the nation’s patients are opening up their pocketbooks.

“Overall utilization of healthcare services and medicines grew slightly in 2013 as patients returned to the healthcare system, mostly visiting physician’s offices and/or receiving outpatient treatment, but in higher numbers after several years of ‘self-rationing,’” IMS found.

Physicians’ offices were the big beneficiary of the increased volume, posting the first increase in patient office visits (2.7 percent) in five years. “Patient office visits, which have always been relatively evenly split between primary care and specialists, tipped to majority specialist in 2013 for the first time, with greater increases for older patients,” IMS writes.

Hospitals saw emergency room traffic slow, which IMS researchers attributed to increased policies discouraging ER visits. Scheduled inpatient admissions ballooned by 10.4 percent over the previous year. “For the fourth year in a row, hospitalizations beginning in the ER increased in number–driven by day visits to the ER–but inpatient admissions via the ER declined dramatically.”

Overall, IMS found that hospital admissions increased by 2.6 percent over 2012.


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