Increased doctor visits costing billions

Consultations with general practitioners and specialists are on the rise and that is putting pressure on state coffers

Last year’s price tag for contact between patients and doctors was 14.4 billion kroner, nearly 1.8 billion kroner more than in 2006. According to numbers from Statistics Denmark, there were nearly 60 million contacts with doctors last year, compared to just under 56 million in 2006. Included in the figures are not only actual face-to-face doctor visits, but also phone consultations and email exchanges as well.

The contacts apply to a broad range of general practitioners (GPs), which accounted for three fourths of the total, and specialists like ophthalmologists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, psychologists and paediatric dentists. Common to all of the visits is that they were made using state money.

The nearly two billion kroner rise in costs was not exactly unexpected, according to one researcher.

“While this level of increase may be a good reason to examine the entire medical system, it also reflects a natural progression,” Jørgen Lauridsen, a professor at the Centre for Health Economics Research at the University of Southern Denmark, told Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper.

The “natural progression” is part of council reforms that aim to move treatment and expenses from hospitals to doctors.

Lauridsen said that patients with chronic diseases are now being treated by GPs rather than at hospitals, and that people are living longer in general – both of which increase costs.

Peter Orebo Hansen, the head of the GPs' union, PLO, said that many tasks like taking blood samples and monitoring patients with ongoing conditions have switched from hospitals to doctors in recent years.

“While it has put pressure on the cost of general practice, it has reduced hospital costs and increased the overall productivity of the health care system,” Hansen told Kristeligt Dagblad.