Heart Health

Why Americans Aren’t Going to the Doctor

February 17, 2011
CHI Health


Why Americans Aren’t Going to the Doctor

According to this post on the Wall Street Journal Health Blog, Americans are continuing to utilize fewer medical services – even as the economy is showing signs of improvement. That means another factor or two must be at play … and they contend that’s “a drive by employers to push onto workers a larger share of health costs,” as well as an “unusually mild flu season.”

All blame aside, the post goes on to state that reduced demand is bad for hospitals – which is true (I don’t think anyone would argue that point).

But the real concern these reports fail to mention is that a decline in health care usage is also bad for patients. By putting off routine preventive care or ignoring health concerns until it’s too late – just to save a couple of bucks – patients may not receive the right diagnoses until it’s too late for the cheaper treatment options – or, in some cases, any treatment options at all. Most of us in the health care industry can cite at least one example of a patient who did or did not seek treatment in time – and what it meant for their ultimate prognosis. Unfortunately those warnings just aren’t proving to be enough of a reason to convince most Americans to get in and see their doctor.

So we’re curious – do you still go to the doctor as often as you should? Or are you one of the millions of Americans putting off your care?

  1. Karen L

    You wonder why people aren't going to their doctors-Have you check the bills that you get back? 200+ dollars to check an iron level and 140$ just to walk in the door. If I wouldn't have insurance through work, I would not be going to get my yearly physical. My parents have private insurance as my dad is self-employed and their insurance payments monthly were over 900$ and that was for insurance that really only pays when you have a hospitalization. It is just like expecting people to go to the dentist every 6 months when it costs over $150 including the x-rays per visit. I appreciate the entertainment in the room now-(they have portable tv's) but that is not why I am there and it doesn't change the weight of my pocketbook when I am leaving. It isn't just a couple of bucks saved or spent but if you are only making $11/hr, it is all the extra money you have for several months spent going to the MD and that is only for you and not your family.

  2. Faith

    THANK YOU KEVIN. Well said!!! I had a miscarriage and my body was having problems getting rid of my passed away body. I had to get a DNC and even after I had an infection. My whole medical cost was about 10,000 dollars!! If Medicaid had not helped me out I have no idea what I would have done. Hospitals spend money on fancy waiting rooms and flat screen tvs and yet the cost of health care has sky rocketted and that is morally WRONG

  3. Woolanda

    As a Tricare dependent and a disabled Vet, I go in to the doctor whenever I feel a home treatment isn't working and my condition is worsening or something I can't reason away is going on. I will say, if I had the insurance through work, I probably would not go as often . . . I couldn't afford it.

  4. SamH

    It's all about economics. People aren't going to go to the doctor for elective procedures and "nonsense" well care when they are unsure if they can afford to put food on the table next week or if they might lose their job. It doesn't matter that emergency trips are more expensive in the long run. It's all about the cash flow now..Do I go to the doctor for pain in my stomach or do I put shoes on my child's feet? As the economy turns around, you should see an increase in doctor visits and hospitalizations as disposable income improves and people become more financially stable to afford the cost of co-pays and deductibles.

  5. Han

    My husband and I do not have health insurance, and he rarely goes to his asthma MD, because the cost is so high. We are charged $150 to just walk in the door. Not to mention the $70 asthma assessment he receives. Or the $300/month Advair cost. If the cost of going to the MD was less, we would go more. I think that paying $50 to see a primary care MD and $100 to see a specialist would be more financially permitting.

  6. JP

    The WHO puts American healthcare somewhere between 20 and 40 in terms of ranking against the rest of the developed nations. At the same time, our costs are the highest. So, to lament that people don't buy something that does not perform in superior fashion at the highest price is a bit naive. It's like being charged for a Jaguar and being delivered a Ford Fiesta. Also, I'd like to see the survey or data source that backs the statement "Unfortunately those warnings just aren't proving to be enough of a reason to convince most Americans to get in and see their doctor." This makes the assumption that 'most Americans' are not seeing the doctor because they are ignoring warnings about the effect of putting off care. As others have pointed out, there is a more primary reason they are putting off care and it is not that they do not understand that putting off care can cause problems. Cost is a huge problem for many people. To say 'just to save a couple of bucks' is condescending and untrue. Since when does a preventative care visit cost 'a couple of bucks.' I want to know where that clinic is. Tell this to a single mom working two jobs who needs that couple of bucks to pay rent.

  7. Jen

    Hi JP - Thanks for the comment. I actually wrote this post and would like to address some of your concerns. For starters, I do apologize if you took it to say that health care costs in this country are not outrageous - because they most certainly are. I do know Alegent Health is taking steps to lower our costs - and after seeing all of these comments, I plan to look into that topic for a potential blog post. However, the point I was attempting to make in this post was that while all of these studies investigate the CAUSE behind a drop in health care utilization, they fail to discuss the EFFECTS of it. You also asked for the source that states that Americans are not utilizing preventive services despite repeated warnings. This study, (http://www.rwjf.org/pr/product.jsp?id=19896) performed by the National Commission on Prevention Priorities (NCPP), found that more than 100,000 lives could be saved every year if Americans increased their utilization of just five key preventive care tactics, the importance of which are highly publicized every year. While it may have been safer to use the term, "many," rather than "most," I do stand behind my choice, per the statistics in this study. Finally, I do feel the need to apologize if you felt as though my statement, "just to use a couple of bucks," was condescending. That was not my intention. As evidenced by prior comments, it's clear that cost is a huge factor in people's decisions to seek care. I, for one, have been ignoring ankle pain because I don't want to pay my family doctor just to tell me to see an orthopedic specialist. However, when you look at the most expensive of those five key areas of prevention, there are avenues that a single mom working two jobs can take to receive free or reduced-price services. - The CDC offers the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program database where you can search for local resources to connect you with free or low-cost mammography options (http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/) - Smokers looking to quit in Nebraska can use the Tobacco Free Nebraska Hotline for access to free services (http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/tfn/ces/) - And the American Cancer Society works with local organizations, like the Great Plains Colon Cancer Task Force, to offer free colon cancer screening kits and even free colonoscopies to those who qualify (http://omaha.com/article/20110218/LIVEWELL01/702189955/1161) I understand that I did not dive into all of these details in the initial post, but as you can see, it gets rather lengthy even with just a cursory view of the statistics. Instead, I focused on my initial message as described above in an attempt to spur conversation around this important topic. I do hope you find this information helpful, JP. Jen Homann Communications Strategist Alegent Health

  8. JP

    Thanks so much for the clarification, the study, and the links. These are very helpful. I did not intend to come across and not wanting people to get ahead of health concerns before they become something critical. Prevention is a much better way, in my mind, to take care of oneself. I think access to services, cost, and as you point out, the skipping around one has to do in terms of referrals, are barriers that need to be taken into account when considering the issue. The RWJ study does a good job of laying out the barriers so thanks again for posting that link.

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