People use health care services for many reasons: to cure illnesses and health conditions, to mend breaks and tears, to prevent or delay future health care problems, to reduce pain and increase quality of life, and sometimes merely to obtain information about their health status and prognosis. Health care utilization can be appropriate or inappropriate, of high or low quality, expensive or Inexpensive. The study of trends in health care utilization provides important information on these phenomena and may spotlight areas that may warrant future in-depth studies because of potential disparities in access to, or quality of, care. Trends in utilization may also be used as the basis for projecting future health care needs, to forecast future health care expenditures, or as the basis for projecting increased personnel training or supply initiatives. The health care delivery system of today has undergone tremendous change, even over the relatively short period of the past decade. New and emerging technologies, including drugs, devices, procedures, tests, and imaging machinery, have changed patterns of care and sites where care is provided. The growth in ambulatory surgery has been influenced by improvements in anesthesia and analgesia and by the development of noninvasive or minimally invasive techniques. Procedures that formerly required a few weeks of convalescence now require only a few days. New drugs can cure or lengthen the course of disease, although often at increased cost or increased utilization of medical practitioners needed to prescribe and monitor the effects of the medications. Over the past decade, both public and private organizations have made great strides in identifying causes of disease and disability, discovering treatments and cures, and working with practitioners to educate the public about how to reduce the incidence and prevalence of major diseases and the functional limitations and discomfort they may cause. Clinical practice guidelines have been created and disseminated to influence providers to follow recommended practices. Public education campaigns urge consumers to comply with behavioral recommendations (e.g., exercise and lose weight) and treatment regimens (e.g., take your medications) that may help to prevent or control diseases and their consequences. Health care utilization also has evolved as the population’s need for care has changed over time.
Some factors that influence need include aging, sociodemographic population shifts, and changes in the prevalence and incidence of different diseases. As the prevalence of chronic conditions increases, for example, residential and community-based health-related services have emerged that are designed to minimize loss of function and to keep people out of institutional settings.
The median age of the world's population is increasing because of a decline in fertility and a 20-year increase in the average life span during the second half of the 20th century. These factors, combined with elevated fertility in many countries during the 2 decades after World War II (i.e., the "Baby Boom"), will result in increased numbers of persons aged >65 years during 2010--2030. Worldwide, the average life span is expected to extend another 10 years by 2050. The growing number of older adults increases demands on the public health system and on medical and social services. Chronic diseases, which affect older adults disproportionately, contribute to disability, diminish quality of life, and increased health- and long-term--care costs. Increased life expectancy reflects, in part, the success of public health interventions, but public health programs must now respond to the challenges created by this achievement, including the growing burden of chronic illnesses, injuries, and disabilities and increasing concerns about future caregiving and health-care costs. This report presents data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the World Health Organization, and...
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