More than half of patients consider budget before making medical visits

Physicians are taking extra steps to draw people in for needed care.

By — Posted May 9, 2012

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The single father of three hadn’t been in to see Rob Danoff, DO, a family physician in Philadelphia, for a while, despite having come to him regularly for years. Dr. Danoff called him. And called again. After several attempts, he found out that the man had lost his job and was prioritizing care for his children while putting off his own as a money-saving strategy.

“It’s important to reach out and let people know there are options. I told him that we will work it out,” said Dr. Danoff, program director for family medicine and the family practice/emergency medicine residency programs at Aria Health System. “The health care recession is not over, and it’s very real.”

A survey of 1,069 people ages 18 to 84 released April 18 by the American Osteopathic Assn. found that 57% considered their budget before making health-related decisions. Nearly 31% attempted to be frugal by skipping or reducing annual visits to their primary care physician, and 32% passed up or cut back on follow-up appointments. Almost 27% went without or decreased visits to specialists. When it came to blood work and lab tests, almost 21% refrained from them because of cost concerns. Nineteen percent went without an imaging test.

“Even though we’re busy, we’re not as busy as we normally are,” Dr. Danoff said.

Another survey by the California Healthcare Foundation of 1,528 state residents released March 21 found that 27% delayed a regular physical or checkup because of cost. About 21% put off services for a medical problem, and 19% deferred treatment recommended by a physician. Nine percent postponed surgery.

The recession ran from December 2007 to June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“Even though the recession ended, a lot of people still don’t have coverage,” said Robbin Gaines, senior program officer with the California Healthcare Foundation.

Most industry watchers believe economic concerns are the most significant factor in declines in use of office-based physician services. Visits to physician offices went down 4.7% in 2011, according to data published April 4 by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. This comes on the heels of a 4.2% drop in 2010.

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Which kind of visits patients skip to save money

An American Osteopathic Assn. survey of 1,069 people found that many patients were cutting or reducing physician visits because they were short on funds.

Type of visit Skip Don’t skip NA
Annual checkups 30.5% 60.4% 9.0%
Follow-up visits 32.4% 57.8% 9.8%
Visits to specialists 26.7% 58.5% 14.8%

Source: 2012 Health Care Expenditures Survey: Final Results, American Osteopathic Assn., April 18

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