What's behind more patients avoiding the physician office?

Selected articles on trends, challenges and controversies in the changing world of medicine

Posted March 12, 2012

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Multiple private- and public-sector studies all point to a marked decline in the percentage of patients coming to the physician office, and a slip in the growth of spending at practices. And those studies all point to a common cause — patients believing they can’t handle the bill. Even two years after the official end of the recession, the studies report patients struggling to handle medical bills, or fearing they won’t be able to handle them. Physicians might not notice the decline on a day-to-day basis — perhaps it’s one or two fewer patients a day — but the numbers add up over time.

American Medical News has reported on several of these studies and has gone deeper into analyzing just how many patients are staying home instead of getting care. We have looked into the specific financial burdens patients feel they can’t handle, sometimes waiting until the absolute last moment before seeking care.The effects of the economic recession lasted well beyond the downturn’s official June 2009 end.

Spending growth on physician services sinks to record low

Spending on office-based physicians and clinical services grew by only 2.5% — the slowest annual growth rate since the federal government started keeping track in 1960. A light influenza season kept office traffic away, and cash-strapped patients avoided the doctor when they could. Read story

Physician visits by privately insured patients decline 17%

Physician office visits by privately insured patients younger than 65 fell sharply from the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2011. It’s considered further evidence that patients — likely rattled by ever-higher deductibles and premiums — believed they needed to save where they could, meaning fewer visits to the doctor. Read story

Costs prompting sicker patients to avoid medical care

Self-described sicker American adults are saying the cost of care prevented them from going to get it. Forty-two percent of sicker patients didn’t visit a doctor, didn’t fill a prescription, skipped doses of medication or otherwise didn’t get recommended care in the previous year because of money issues, researchers say. Read story

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