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The number of visits Americans make to ambulatory settings for medical care is growing at three times the rate of population growth, according to new statistics released by the National Center for Health Statistics. In 2004, Americans made more than 1 billion visits to care providers' offices, emergency departments (EDs), and hospital outpatient centers. About half of the visits were to primary care providers.


Here are some other findings on medical care use patterns released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):


* The average length of time that people wait to be seen by a physician increased from 38 minutes in 1997 to 47 minutes in 2004.


* The most common diagnosis for office visits was hypertension (42 million visits).


* Following hypertension, the most common reasons for visits were routine child health care, the common cold, joint problems, diabetes, and spinal disorders. Diagnoses of diabetes increased by 117% and spinal disorders by 94%.



For more information, visit the CDC Web site at and enter "medical care visits" in the search box.