Americans don’t see doctors as often as they should. Why not?
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I have never wanted to go to the doctor. As a child, I was frightened of shots and unwanted prodding. When I started high school, my busy schedule made it difficult to make time for checkups. Now, I tell my parents to reschedule because checkups and doctor visits are unnecessary and too cumbersome. This fear and dislike of doctors prevent me from seeking medical care as often as I should.
Last spring break, my mother and I stayed in a small but cozy Airbnb in Massachusetts so I could tour colleges. The experience for the first few days was thoroughly enjoyable—the host stocked the pantry full of endless bags of potato chips, and the college campuses appeared only a little less perfect than they’d seemed on their websites. Then, one night, I stepped on a piece of glass inside the apartment. Concerned but not paranoid, I spent the next half hour trying to pull the glass out of my foot with tweezers. My efforts were rewarded. I extracted a long sliver of glass from my heel and then proceeded to spend the night watching a movie.
A few days following my unfortunate incident, I still felt a persistent stabbing pain in my foot. Like any good Gen Zer, I spent the next hour googling “Will glass come out of my foot eventually?” and after seeing reassuring posts of a “doctor” on Quora, decided to wait it out. Three weeks later, I found myself sitting in front of a foot surgeon with my entire heel anesthetized. As I lay there while the podiatrist painstakingly searched for more pieces of glass inside my foot, I regretted not coming to the doctor immediately after my unfortunate incident.
My reluctance stemmed from three factors. The first was the perception around seeing a doctor or receiving medical care. For most of my life, I had been taught that seeing a doctor was a last resort, something people only do when they are severely injured. When I saw glass in my foot, my first instinct was to solve the problem myself without medical intervention. This stigma is particularly harmful, especially for people who do not normally see a regular physician. The second factor was cost. While my family is fortunate enough to be able to cover the cost of my medical care, it felt wasteful to be using their money on a situation I could “solve” myself. The third reason was simply procrastination. I prioritized other aspects of my life over my injured foot while not understanding the importance of medical attention.
I am not alone in this reluctance. Generally, most people avoid doctors for one of three reasons: a fear of bad news, a fear of pain or discomfort, or a fear of disclosing personal information. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right? The medical industry is also seeing a decline in the number of patients but not because Americans are getting healthier. Researchers attribute this drop to a breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship. Combined with the slow but steady drop in the number of Americans who see a regular physician and the stress of the pandemic, a vicious reinforcing cycle has emerged. Fewer Americans are seeing a doctor regularly, which contributes to the decline of the doctor-patient relationship. This deterioration, in turn, disrupts the healthcare system as a whole. High prices for medical care only worsen this issue. Nearly 11 percent of Americans were uninsured in 2019, and this number has only risen since the onset of the pandemic. As healthcare prices continue to rise and medical care becomes increasingly expensive, more Americans will continue to sacrifice medical care to pay rent and keep food on the table. In fact, according to a survey conducted by 20|20 Research, two-thirds of Americans avoided or delayed getting medical attention for cost-related reasons. During non-pandemic times, this reluctance can be attributed to one simple fact: people just don’t prioritize seeing a doctor over their other needs or wants. Work, family life, and finances are often prioritized in our fast-paced and hectic lives, and it seems our health pays the price of our ambition.
Though there is no one solution to address healthcare inequities and dispel stereotypes around medical care and immediate treatment right now, raising awareness about the importance of medical attention is the best course of action we can pursue in the present. Speaking out about common misconceptions about medical care and actively working to spread information about it in the mainstream media can help combat the knowledge gap surrounding the medical industry. In the long term, implementing programs like universal healthcare, which would ensure that all American citizens have access to quality healthcare, may be able to directly counteract the healthcare crisis we find ourselves in. But no matter the solution, one thing is certain: we must find a way to alleviate the symptoms of the one sickness America cannot seem to cure—a reluctance to seek medical care.