Survey: Recession taking a toll on patients

The recession is taking a toll on patients and their ability to pay for health care, a new national survey of family doctors has found. The survey’s findings were released this week by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Just over 500 family physicians filled out the online survey, which was conducted in March and April.

The survey results help confirm what many doctors are seeing in their clinics: Since January 2008, the recession has been taking a toll on people’s access to health care.

Nearly three-fourths of the respondents said they were seeing more patients who are uninsured, and more than half said they’ve been seeing fewer patients since the recession began more than a year ago.

Among the most worrisome findings: Sixty percent of the physicians who answered the survey said they were seeing more health problems in patients who had skipped preventive care. And nearly 90 percent reported a significant increase in the number of patients showing major symptoms of stress.

Dr. Ted Epperly, president of the AAFP, said many patients have been deferring or cancelling screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies.

They also are failing to return for recommended followup visits or refill medications that are vital to managing their chronic conditions. Rather than forgoing needed medication altogether, some patients opt to cut their prescriptions, without their physician’s knowledge, to make them last longer.

In response, many of the doctors who took part in the survey said they were taking specific actions to help make it easier for patients to receive access to care. Two-thirds said they were discounting their fees, providing more charity care, offering free screenings, and/or switching patients to cheaper generic prescription drugs. 

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