Patients avoided doctors during recession, study confirms

If you think the Great Recession took a toll on your practice, you're not alone. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that patients indeed made fewer trips to the doctor from 2008 to 2009 than they did from 2005 to 2006.

Broken down by race, white patients visited physician offices 7 times during the recession, compared to 7.3 times in the two-year span before it. Black patients went to the doctor 5.3 times, down from 5.8 times before the recession; while visits among Hispanics dropped to 4.1, from 4.5.

Karoline Mortensen, the study's lead author from the University of Maryland in College Park, said that she couldn't determine whether this decreased usage led to worse care or outcomes, and that more research is needed to determine what other factors may have led to the decrease.

However, Reuters noted that the American Academy of Family Physicians in 2009 reported that 60 percent of doctors had "seen more health problems caused by their patients forgoing needed preventive care."

While some analysts have already pointed to the rise of consumer-directed care as a contributor to decreased healthcare utilization, new government numbers show that consumers' share of health spending is actually on a slow decline, Kaiser Health News reported. According to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, consumer health costs represented 32 percent of the healthcare economy in 2000, fell to 28 percent in 2010, and dropped to 27.7 percent in 2011--its lowest level in decades.

One factor keeping patients' costs at bay is the increased availability of generic alternatives to popular brand-name drugs, according to analysts. However, with health reform soon forcing most Americans to purchase health insurance and high-deductible plans expected to proliferate, economists predicted that the downward trend of consumer costs would likely soon reverse, KHN reported.

To learn more:
- read the article from the Reuters Health in the Chicago Tribune
- see the study abstract from JAMA Internal Medicine
- read the article from Kaiser Health News