Monday October 8, 2012

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester (Mass.), Oct. 3, 2012

Americans are going to the doctor less, newly released census data show.

In 2010, adults ages 18 to 64 made an average of 3.9 visits to doctors, nurses or other medical providers. In 2001, the figure was 4.8. So in almost a decade, the average person made roughly one fewer visit to a doctor’s office per year.

If statistics were symptoms, this one would be hard to diagnose precisely.

Cost is undoubtedly the leading underlying cause, aggravated by the recession, job losses, and large numbers of uninsured people outside Massachusetts. Hefty co-payments likely discourage many patients, too. Other possible explanations include: people in the 18-to-64 age group exercising more and eating better, health care providers doing more phone and email consultations, doctors and patients getting more things accomplished per office visit, and potential patients allaying some health worries or getting some answers online.

The data merit a closer look by health-care administrators and providers.

For the rest of us, the data might nudge people to count up how many times they’ve been to a doctor in the last 12 months, to see how they compare.

Of course, there really aren’t bragging rights in beating the national average if you’ve stayed away because you’ve "forgotten" to schedule the annual physical.

When was the last time a stethoscope was pressed to your chest and a little hammer hit against your knee? Getting a regular checkup isn’t just a prime opportunity to catch a problem early. It lets us check on our important health numbers -- blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, fasting blood sugar, etc. -- so that, with any luck, we can keep the number of other medical visits per year nice and low.