National Survey of Family Doctors Shows Recession Takes Startling Toll on Patients

Findings show patients defer important preventive care, doctors see more health problems because of it

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Megan Moriarty
Public Relations Strategist
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237 Ext. 6052

LEAWOOD, Kan. – The American Academy of Family Physicians released the results today of
a national survey that confirms the negative and potentially serious impact the recession is
having on Americans’ access to health care.

The national poll of AAFP members shows that nearly 90 percent of the family physicians
surveyed reported their “patients have expressed concerns recently over their ability to pay for
their health care needs.” In fact, 58 percent said they had “seen an increase in appointment
cancellations.” Furthermore, 60 percent reported they had “seen more health problems caused by
their patients forgoing needed preventive care.”
In addition, the survey found:

  • two-thirds (66 percent) of the family physicians who responded said they were taking specific actions, such as discounting their fees, increasing charity care, providing free screenings, and moving patients to generic prescriptions, to help their patients manage health care needs with respect to the current economic climate;
  • more than half (54 percent) of the survey respondents reported seeing fewer total patients since the recession began in January 2008;
  • however, 73 percent said they had seen an increase in uninsured patients visiting their offices;
  • 64 percent of respondents reported a decrease in the number of employer-sponsored/privately insured patients;
  • nearly 90 percent (87 percent) reported they had seen a significant increase in patients with major stress symptoms since the beginning of the recession.

“The survey found that patients are canceling or deferring important preventive screenings such
as pap smears, mammograms and colonoscopies,” said Ted Epperly, MD, AAFP president.
“They also are failing to return for recommended follow-up visits or refill medications that are
vital to managing their chronic conditions. Rather than forgoing needed medication altogether,
some patients opt to cut their prescriptions, without their physician’s knowledge, to make them
last longer.”

Despite these cost-cutting measures, the economic environment is still causing anxiety among
patients and is leading them to discuss other health care options with their physician.

“The AAFP supports health care coverage for all Americans regardless of their employment
status or socioeconomic status,” he continued. “To achieve that goal and provide better care for
all Americans in a cost-efficient manner, we must move toward a health care system based on
enhanced primary care.”

The AAFP survey provides further evidence that consumers often defer health care during a
recession. Health care is the largest sector of the economy, and people get sick no matter what’s
happening on Wall Street. However, even the health care industry ails in tough economic times
when some families are forced to prioritize rent or mortgage payments and food over health care
services, Epperly said.

For an executive summary of the survey and other related materials, please visit

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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.  To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website,