Going to the doctor isn’t high on anyone’s list of fun activities. When it comes to preventive exams and screenings, many adults are simply too nervous to show up. Whether it is anxiety about the test results, concern about pain or discomfort, or a plain old case of the nerves, putting off key screenings and exams can be harmful to your health.
According to the American Cancer Society, 29 percent of insured women do not receive recommended mammograms. A 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that one in three people ages 50 to 75 have not undergone the recommended colorectal screenings.
“Doctors frequently encounter patients who do not follow advice or get the tests or exams they need for their age and gender,” says Dr. Tim Gutshall, vice president of medical management and chief medical officer at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Ultimately, though, it’s up to the patient. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true. Just a few moments of discomfort are far outweighed by the chance of having your life saved by early detection.”
Conquer your anxieties
So, how do you overcome your procrastination, anxiety or fear? “First and foremost, find a personal physician you can talk to — without feeling judged or uncomfortable,” says Gutshall.
About one in three men and one in five women have no regular doctor, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund. “If you don’t have a physician, or you avoid making appointments with your physician, you may be sweeping a health problem under the rug,” says Gutshall.
It’s important to be able to talk to your doctor about anything, even if it seems random, minor or embarrassing: weird-looking moles, minor sports injuries, mental health issues, any pain or discomfort, irregular periods, sex and contraception, a diet craze you’re trying, or domestic violence.
Other ways to conquer your fears:
- Understand that it’s normal. Most people have some degree of fear or anxiety in a clinic or hospital. By some estimates, 20 percent of the population suffers from “white coat syndrome” where blood pressure increases when measured in the doctor’s office.
- Confront anxieties and deal with them rationally. Surveys show that people anticipate screenings to be more painful than they actually are. Thinking rationally, brief moments of discomfort can be lifesaving. For example, the prep work and process of having a colonoscopy may be difficult for you. But it might save your life.
- Talk to your doctor about expectations. What will the pain feel like? If you have a clear idea, for example, that a needle prick feels like a mosquito bite, you may save yourself some worry.
- Take someone with you. If it makes you feel better, ask a spouse, relative, or close friend to take you to an appointment and even sit with you in the examining room.
5 questions to ask during your next doctor visit
The Iowa Healthcare Collaborative is working to improve care through a campaign External Site called Choosing Wisely®. Choosing Wisely recommends five general questions to ask your health care provider before you get any test, treatment or procedure:
- Do I really need this test or procedure?
- What are the risks? Will there be side effects? What are the chances of getting results that aren't accurate? Could that lead to more testing or another procedure?
- Are there simpler, safer options?
- What happens if I don’t do anything?
- How much will it cost? Are there less expensive tests, treatments or procedures that my insurance may cover?
Learn More. Visit Consumerhealthchoices.org/Iowa External Site.
Choosing Wisely® is an initiative of the ABIM Foundation.