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Doctor Visits Are Getting Short Shrift in Tight Economy

More than a third of Americans have cut back on medical care, survey finds

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Because of recession-related financial problems, 36 percent of Americans have cut back on doctor visits, according to a new survey.

When asked which types of health visits they were reducing, 63 percent of the 1,000 adult respondents cited visits to a dentist, 59 percent said primary care physician visits and 52 percent said eye doctor appointments.

Just 8 percent said they were adhering to their regular health-care schedule.

The survey, by the American Optometric Association, also found that Hispanics were most likely to reduce health-care visits because of the poor economy. Almost half (49 percent) of Hispanic respondents said they're visiting doctors less often, compared with 36 percent of blacks and 33 percent of whites. Dental visits are being limited by 63 percent of Hispanics, and 53 percent are seeing an eye doctor less often, the survey found.

"Since Hispanics are at a greater risk for developing eye diseases such as glaucoma, it's important for them to see an eye doctor regularly," David Cockrell, an optometrist and an association trustee, said in a news release from the group. "Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early, it can be controlled to prevent or slow continued vision loss."

The survey also identified gender differences, with 38 percent of women and 32 percent of men saying they're limiting doctor visits. It found that women were a bit more likely than men to reduce eye doctor visits (53 to 51 percent), even though more women (52 percent) wear glasses or contact lenses than men (48 percent). Women are also more likely to have dry eye, according to the survey.

Almost two-thirds of respondents who live in rural areas said they were reducing eye doctor visits, compared with half of urban and suburban respondents.

The survey findings "are very worrisome," Cockrell said. "We know that many eye and vision problems have no obvious signs or symptoms, so early diagnosis and treatment are critical. This is true beyond just eye care. Health issues of any kind are not things that Americans should ignore."

Survey participants indicated that they worry most about losing their eyesight, with 43 percent putting that at the top of their list of concerns. That compares with 32 percent worried about memory loss and 12 percent concerned about losing the ability to walk.

"The concept of losing vision appears very concrete to people, which may be why people cut back on other doctor visits first," Cockrell said. "But doctors of optometry encourage individuals to consider eye and vision care as an integral part of their overall health, so cutting back on any aspect of health care is not a good idea."

Delaying health care visits could lead to additional health problems and, in the long run, end up being more expensive.

"The longer patients go between doctor visits, the greater the opportunity for additional health problems that ultimately can be much more expensive than routine checkups and early-stage treatment," Cockrell said. "That is another reason that identifying health problems in the early stages is ideal."

More information

Prevent Blindness America has more about eye exams.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Optometric Association, news release, Sept. 29, 2009

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