Recession Cutting Into Doctor Visits, According to New Consumer Survey

ST. LOUIS, MO, Sept. 29, 2009 - While the economy begins to show signs of a slow recovery, many consumers continue to struggle with financial challenges, some of which could affect their health. A survey released today by the American Optometric Association (AOA) revealed that 36 percent of Americans say they are limiting their doctor visits because of the recession.

When asked which doctors they are visiting less, the majority indicated dentist (63 percent), followed by primary care physician (59 percent) and eye doctor (52 percent). Only eight percent indicated that they are sticking to their regular health schedule.

"These statistics are very worrisome," said Dr. David Cockrell, optometrist and AOA Trustee. "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."

While the survey did not ask why respondents chose to make specific cutbacks in doctor visits, fear of losing eyesight is likely part of the answer. For the fourth year in a row, the AOA's American Eye-Q® survey showed that consumers worry most about losing their vision (43 percent), over their memory (32 percent) or even their ability to walk (12 percent).

"The concept of losing vision appears very concrete to people, which may be why people cut back on other doctor visits first," said Dr. Cockrell. "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."

Demographics

Ethnicity
Regardless of ethnicity, gender or geographic location, the recession appears to be affecting American's health care decisions. According to the 2009 Eye-Q® survey, when it comes to sticking to a regular health schedule during tough financial times, Hispanics are affected the most by the economy. Almost half (49 percent) indicated they are visiting doctors less often, compared with African Americans (36 percent) and Caucasians (33 percent).

The survey showed that 63 percent of Hispanics are limiting dentist visits, and 53 percent are cutting back on eye doctor appointments.

"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," said Dr. Cockrell. "Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early, it can be controlled to prevent or slow continued vision loss."

Gender
More women (38 percent) than men (32 percent) said they are limiting doctor visits. In terms of specific doctors, women (53 percent) are more inclined to cut back on seeing an eye doctor than men (51 percent), which is unfortunate since the survey also indicated more women (52 percent) wear glasses or contact lenses, than men (48 percent). Women also tend to be more frequent sufferers of dry eye.

The AOA recommends adults age 60 and under should have a comprehensive eye exam every two years, or as recommended by an eye doctor. Adults over age 60 should have an eye exam annually, according to AOA recommendations.

Geography
Even though doctors of optometry are accessible in almost all parts of the country, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of survey respondents living in rural areas said they have cut visits to their eye doctor. Only 50 percent of urban and suburban respondents said they are changing their regular eye-care schedule.

Dr. Cockrell said that putting off doctor visits ultimately can be more expensive, and lead to additional health problems. "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. That is another reason that identifying health problems in the early stages is ideal."

How the AOA Can Help

Since vision is an important aspect of overall health, well-being and independence, the AOA has established several programs to help consumers. Volunteers In Service In Our Nation (VISION USA) provides free basic eye health and vision services to working low-income, uninsured individuals and their families by participating AOA member optometrists who donate their services.

Optometry's CharityTM, The AOA Foundation, created InfantSEE®, a no-cost public health program developed to provide professional eye care for infants nationwide. Through InfantSEE®, optometrists provide a one-time, comprehensive eye assessment to infants between six and 12 months of age, regardless of a parent's ability to pay.

For additional information on eye health, please visit www.aoa.org. Those interested in the VISION USA program are encouraged to call toll-free 1-800-766-4466 for additional information and to learn about eligibility requirements. Parents wanting to know more about the InfantSEE® program and to find a local doctor can go to www.InfantSEE.org or call toll-free 1-888-396-EYES (3937).

About the survey:
The fourth annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB). From May 21 - 24, 2009, using an online methodology, PSB interviewed 1,000 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. general population. (Margin of error at 95 percent confidence level.)

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):
The American Optometric Association represents approximately 36,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country, and in 3,500 of those communities are the only eye doctors. Doctors of optometry provide two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States.

American Optometric Association doctors of optometry are highly qualified, trained doctors on the frontline of eye and vision care who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In addition to providing eye and vision care, optometrists play a major role in a patient's overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Prior to optometry school, optometrists typically complete four years of undergraduate study, culminating in a bachelor's degree. Required undergraduate coursework for pre-optometry students is extensive and covers a wide variety of advanced health, science and mathematics. Optometry school consists of four years of post-graduate, doctoral study concentrating on both the eye and systemic health. In addition to their formal training, doctors of optometry must undergo annual continuing education to stay current on the latest standards of care. For more information, visit www.aoa.org.

###

Suggested Articles

The profit margins and management of Community Health Group raise questions about oversight of managed care insurers.

Financial experts are warning practices about the pitfalls of promoting medical credit cards to their patients.

A proposed rule issued by HHS on Tuesday would expand short-term coverage, a move Seema Verma said will have "virtually no impact" on ACA premiums.