By Richard Lenti
Back pain, arthritis and skin problems – not life threatening diseases — top the list of reasons people visit a health care provider, according to a new study by the Mayo Clinic.
“Surprisingly, the most prevalent non-acute conditions were not chronic conditions related to aging, such as diabetes and heart disease, but rather conditions that affect both genders and all age groups,” said Dr. Jennifer St. Sauver, lead author of the study and a member of the Population Health Program at the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery.
Researchers looked at more than 140,000 patients in Minnesota over a five year period and categorized their diagnoses into disease groups. The patients were part of the Rochester Epidemiology Project, a comprehensive medical records system that tracked residents of Olmsted County who visited the Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center and other Olmsted County health care providers.
The top diseases included:
- Skin disorders (42%)
- Osteoarthritis/joint disorders (33%)
- Back problems (24%)
- Cholesterol problems (22%)
- Upper respiratory conditions (not including asthma) (22%)
- Anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder (19%)
- Chronic neurologic disorders (19%)
- High blood pressure (18%)
- Headaches/migraine (13%)
- Diabetes (13%)
“Much research already has focused on chronic conditions, which account for the majority of health care utilization and costs in middle-aged and older adults,” said Dr. St. Sauver. “We were interested in finding out about other types of conditions that may affect large segments of the population across all age groups.”
Four out of every ten patients in the study were diagnosed with skin disorders such as acne, cysts, and dermatitis. That finding, said Dr. St. Sauver, presents an opportunity to determine why these skin-related diagnoses result in so many visits and if alternative care that requires fewer visits is possible.
Health care reform has intensified the need for patient information, so that scarce medical resources can be utilized more efficiently for non-acute conditions, the report noted. Determining the prevalence of disease across all age groups will play a big part in how those resources are allocated.
The study found that seven of the 10 most common diseases increased with advancing age.
For patients 18 years old and younger, skin disorders were the most prevalent condition, followed by upper respiratory tract disease, osteoarthritis and joint disorders.
In contrast, hypertension was the most common condition in patients who were 65 years or older, followed by cholesterol problems and skin disorders.
Ten of the 15 most prevalent disease groups were more common in women in almost all age groups, whereas disorders of lipid metabolism, hypertension, and diabetes were more common in men.
The occurrence of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders was lowest in young people, increased dramatically in 19- to 29-year-olds and remained constant across the older age groups. Headaches, including migraine, also increased in the 19- to 29-year-olds but declined after age 50 years.
According to Dr. St. Sauver, the value in these findings are the insight they provide into current health care use, along with arming service providers with a template for predicting future health care needs, as well as opportunities for prevention.
“Finding that skin and back problems are major drivers of health care utilization affirms the importance of moving beyond the commonly recognized health care priorities such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer,” writes Dr. St. Sauver.
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