Health and Science

Why Americans are putting off doctor visits: ZocDoc

Are Americans becoming health care dropouts?
Are Americans becoming health care dropouts?

The doctor may be in, but a lot of people aren't bothering to see her.

A new survey, commissioned by the medical scheduling company ZocDoc, found that 80 percent of Americans say they delay getting preventative health care, or forgo it. Millennials are even less likely to visit to the doctor, with 93 percent of them not scheduling them.

The survey findings come despite the fact that under the Affordable Care Act, a slew of preventive health services, such as blood pressure and cholesterol screening, vaccinations and "well-women" visits, must be covered by a patient's insurance plan with no co-payment or co-insurance charge.

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The ZocDoc survey identified work responsibility as the top reason for why people end up canceling or rescheduling their checkups, with almost half of the 2,183 respondents nationwide saying they canceled an appointment because of work. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

Even when people get sick and want to go to the doctor, they often don't schedule an appointment. Almost a third of the respondents said they didn't make appointments right away after getting sick because it's tough to actually get a visit scheduled with the doctor.

And 43 percent said it is easier to diagnose their own condition, often with the help of the Internet, and treat themselves. When people do try to book a visit over the phone, about 1 in 4 reported having difficulty reaching a person in the office.

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"They get dial tones and hold music," Dr. Oliver Kharraz, founder and president of ZocDoc, told CNBC on Tuesday.

To be sure, the survey's findings feed into the rationale for ZocDoc's business. But Kharraz told CNBC "the fact that our business exists ... shows how big the actual need is."

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On a broader scale, Kharraz said the health-care industry needs to pay attention to issues surrounding access.

"If you think about how health care is delivered, it hasn't changed very much. Everything else that we do has changed. We get things delivered instantly, within an hour," Kharraz said.

"Everything is much more transparent, you know, much more on demand, and for an empowered consumer. Just in health care, we're very passive."

Kharraz's comments came the same day as a new report detailing how fewer than 1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries use telemedicine services that can allow them to be diagnosed by a doctor remotely online, and receive treatment recommendations.

The reason? "The traditional Medicare program has tightly limited telemedicine payments to certain rural areas," noted the story, published by Kaiser Health News.

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In 2012, the most recent year for available data, Medicare paid only $5 million for telemedicine services to beneficiaries, compared with overall spending in the program of more than $450 billion, Kaiser Health News noted. Most Medicare recipients are senior citizens.

"Congress has maintained such restrictions out of concern that the service might increase Medicare expenses," the report said. "The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts have said giving seniors access to doctors online will encourage them to use more services, not replace costly visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers."

But Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health, medicine and pharmacy at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, told the news service that "Medicare beneficiaries are paying a huge price" for not having this benefit.

Wolfson said that telemedicine could help seniors with follow-up appointments that are missed.

Kaiser noted that the telemedicine industry also argues that having more Medicare enrollees use such services "would reduce doctor visits and emergency care."