CHICAGO, Ill. — The world is now over a year into the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the global emphasis on health, a new survey finds many Americans are still avoiding a trip to the doctor. Aside from the fear of contracting COVID-19, researchers find half the country simply can’t afford the visit.
A team from the technology company Tempus polled nearly 1,100 adults between 18 and 70 years-old. Their results reveal a majority of Americans are putting off preventative healthcare appointments, even though many have conditions putting them at high risk for COVID-19.
“We began by asking about new health concerns that emerged over the past year, unrelated to COVID-19. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said they experienced adverse health symptoms but did not seek treatment for them. Of this group, 79 percent reported they already suffer from conditions that are considered co-morbid with respect to COVID-19, including obesity, heart conditions, diabetes, cancer, and chronic lung diseases,” researchers explain in a statement.
Not surprisingly, the survey finds 58 percent of adults say fear of exposure to coronavirus is their top reason for not seeking medical care. However, 51 percent also say the overall cost of care is keeping them away. Another 31 percent add the hassle of simply trying to schedule an appointment is too much to go through.
Families are feeling the financial impact of COVID
With the pandemic bringing economies to a screeching halt, some families are feeling the financial fallout of COVID even more than the virus itself. For patients undergoing medical treatments before the pandemic, 61 percent suspended their care at some point during the emergency.
Half of all parents in the survey admit they also missed medical appointments for their children; including routine check-ups and even appointments for ongoing illnesses.
Much of this may have ties to the millions of Americans losing their jobs and insurance as a result of COVID. In fact, 48 percent of all respondents said they put off some sort of healthcare due to losing income or their health insurance. Moreover, three in 10 Americans said they stopped taking at least one prescription medication because they couldn’t afford the price.
Many Americans don’t know when they should be going to the doctor
Researchers also quizzed respondents about how much they know regarding preventative health screenings. Despite over half the poll (56%) saying they are “very aware” of current healthcare recommendations, the results say something else.
Normally, doctors recommend people see their dentists every six months and get their vision and skin (for cancer) examined annually. Breast cancer screenings typically start at age 40, colon and prostate cancer screenings at age 50, and HPV/Pap screenings happen every three years.
Of those seven preventative health screenings, just two percent knew when they should have these check-ups. Only 16 percent of respondents had correct information about five of the seven.
With this in mind, researchers discovered 66 percent of Americans postponed a routine health check at some point during COVID. Of this group, a staggering 83 percent also suffer from COVID-19 comorbidities. The reasons for these delays remained the same, with 63 percent saying they feared contracting the virus. Over four in 10 cited the cost and 29 percent said they couldn’t successfully schedule an appointment.
Time to make routine health checks easier for everyone?
When it comes to what makes healthcare in American so frustrating for average people, one of the biggest issues respondents note is having to handle all these different issues separately. Over half of Americans (53%) wish scheduling a health screening was easier. Another 45 percent want to be able to bundle these appointments into one visit and 42 percent would prefer to travel to a more convenient location, like a pharmacy.
“While we cannot yet comprehend the full impact of millions of Americans neglecting routine healthcare and deferring illness treatment for more than a year, we’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” the Tempus team concludes.
“Americans have begun to return to their doctors’ offices to resume routine check-ups and postponed treatments, as well as seek care for new health concerns. Although the consequences of neglected healthcare over the past year cannot be unwound, the story remains the same with regard to the future prospects of our collective thriving—nothing beats vigilance in preventative health care and healthy lifestyle choices. We hope the pandemic has reinforced that truth.”