Recession leads many patients to skip routine care

A North Carolina survey also finds 36% of respondents report buying fewer prescription drugs.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Nov. 5, 2009

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Economic worries appear to be keeping patients in North Carolina from seeking regular physical exams and routine dental visits. Medical tests and operations are being delayed. More time is lapsing between prescription refills, if they are filled at all.

This is true even for some patients who have insurance, according to the results of a survey by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina released Oct. 19.

"The recession and rising health care costs are having an impact on preventive health services. ... But there's never a good time to skip preventive health and healthy living," said Don Bradley, MD, the North Carolina Blues' senior vice president and chief medical officer.

To gauge the effect of the economy in North Carolina, the insurer commissioned the Durham, N.C.-based market research firm W5 to conduct a survey in April and May, talking to 501 people in the state, including those who were uninsured or covered by other insurers.

Approximately 17% reported skipping a regular physical exam because of cost, and 17% were decreasing their visits to specialists. In addition, 17% were postponing tests or operations and 15% were refusing these procedures outright.

The economic downturn also affected patient willingness to fill prescriptions. About 36% bought fewer prescription drugs, and 31% refilled them less frequently. Fifteen percent were not filling prescriptions given to them, and 21% said they relied more on over-the-counter medications.

These percentages were much higher for those who were uninsured, although a significant proportion of those with insurance were also taking belt-tightening steps.

National surveys have found similar results, suggesting the economic downturn is taking its toll on patients' ability to access health and the financial viability of medical practices.

An American Academy of Family Physicians survey released in May found 89% of its members were seeing more patients who were expressing concerns about their ability to pay for health care, and 58% of physicians were seeing an uptick in appointment cancellations. The survey is online (link).

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