What prevents you from seeking medical care? Are you always aware of these barriers? Is your doctor/provider aware?
There are all too many known reasons why people don’t seek health care, such as financial, geographical, disproportionate physician/patient ratios, and many others.
But what about the lesser discussed barriers to care? There are many that are not discussed, not acknowledged, and many that we may not even be aware of.
These hurdles can prevent patients from getting appropriate care, sometimes seriously impacting their lives.
In a country where medical care is considered a right, not a privilege, and where health insurance is widely available, it may be hard to understand why someone wouldn't take advantage of accessible health care. However, many factors are often at play which keep people from seeking or accepting recommended care.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that 12.2% of the participants reported a low perceived need to seek medical help, often because they expected their conditions to improve over time or on their own.
These hurdles are only the tip of the iceberg!
The 8 Hidden Barriers to Health Care
1. The Internet
Patients can now find information about their condition and potential treatments with just a few clicks. While this is often helpful, it can also lead to patients becoming overwhelmed with choices or developing unrealistic expectations about what medical care can do for them.
The internet can also be a source of misinformation, as bogus medical claims proliferate online. The Prevalence of Health Misinformation on Social Media: Systematic Review revealed that studies focused on diseases reported moderate misinformation rates at 40%. As for the social media network with the highest pervasiveness of misinformation, the record belongs to Twitter.
Even when the information they read is correct, the average person may struggle (understandably) with how to apply all the correct nuances and variables required for a correct diagnosis.
According to the psychologists from Rutgers University, men who hold traditional beliefs about masculinity, such as acting tough and being emotionally restrained, have higher chances of ignoring their medical problems.
Although they can see the warning signs of potential health problems, they steer away from doctors for as long as possible. The typical “I can tough it out” mentality.
3. Alternative treatments
With the rise of "natural" and "holistic" treatments, some patients forego scientifically proven medicine altogether in favor of alternative remedies with little or no proven therapeutic value. That can be dangerous when patients refuse vaccinations or take herbal supplements that may interact poorly with other medications, or are used instead of proven medical options..
The National Cancer Opinion Survey revealed that 38% of the people who care for cancer patients believe in alternative therapies, despite evidence that such treatments do not work and can shorten the lives of cancer patients.
4. Fear of doctors
Some patients, particularly those from lower-income backgrounds, have had negative experiences with doctors in the past. That can make them hesitant to seek medical care, even when they need it.
5. Fear of diagnosis
Some patients avoid going to the doctor because they're afraid of what they might find out. They worry that a diagnosis will lead to stigma and discrimination. Furthermore, they might not be able to afford treatment.
According to Dr. Barbara Cox, a psychologist based in San Diego, the fear of the unknown and getting bad news triggers the anxiety of those who fear doctors because they tend to imagine a worst-case scenario.
Religious beliefs can be a barrier to health care when they are incompatible with standard medical procedures. A study using the National Comorbidity Survey data suggested that a quarter of church-going people turn to clergy as their initial treatment for mental health problems. There is also a strong Western culture belief amongst Christians that they can or should be able to “pray away” their medical problems. This is most common amongst mental-health related diagnoses, such as depression.
Patients may be reluctant to see a doctor about specific sexual health or mental health issues because they're embarrassed.
A study from the University of Utah reported that 80% of those surveyed admitted lying to their doctor about information that could affect their health, particularly their diet and exercise habits. They explained that they wanted to avoid judgment and didn't want to receive lectures on their negative behaviors.
Some patients feel ashamed of their conditions, whether warranted or not. That can keep them from seeking treatment for fear of being judged by others, especially their health care providers..
According to the 2020 Access to Care Cata of Mental Health America, more than half of the people with mental illness don't receive medical care. They either avoid or delay seeking medical attention because they're scared of losing their jobs or being treated differently.
These are just some of the hidden barriers to health care that patients face. If we want to improve access to health care, we need to be aware of these obstacles and work to overcome them.
At Infiniwell.ai, we strive to accelerate better health care anywhere and provide accessible personal health monitoring solutions to empower patients to seek help without the fear of being judged or discriminated against. Data doesn’t discriminate.