What’s to like about going to the doctor? From cramped waiting rooms outfitted with 20-year-old furniture emitting a curiously sterile smell, to the sky-high bill that arrives in the mail weeks later, the entire healthcare experience—start to finish—is the stuff of nightmares. It’s no wonder, then, why so many people downright panic at the thought of having to step foot inside a clinic or hospital.
Obviously, visiting the doctor has its upsides, too. For example… life. Going to the doctor could literally save your life. From the moment you bust out of your mama’s womb, doctors and nurses one and only job is to make sure you don’t die. That’s amazing, especially considering they hardly know you.
So if perfect strangers are willing to cure you of disease, set your broken bones, restart your heart, or remove cancerous moles from your backside, why are we still so freaked out about doctors? The reasons are aplenty, but most are varying degrees of the same issue.
Anxiety… About Everything
David Yusko, clinical director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety, treats patients diagnosed with iatrophobia (the actual medical term for fear of doctors). He shared with US News & World Report how this type of anxiety isn’t just mental. His patients physically react with genuine fear just at the sight of doctor-related imagery.
“They’ll wring their hands; they’ll cross their arms or legs; or they’ll try to turn their body away from the image or hide their eyes from it,” he said. “They’ll talk about their heart beating quickly, their hands getting sweaty and feeling dizzy or nauseous.”
If you think that sounds crazy, consider these terrifying statistics Forbes gathered about the current state of American healthcare:
- Up to 400,000 people are killed each year due to preventable medical errors.
- More than 30 percent of hospital patients suffer some form of preventable harm during their hospital stay.
- Critical care patients each experience nearly two medical errors per day.
- More than 90 percent of U.S. physicians admitted to making some medical decisions based on avoiding lawsuits, as opposed to the best interest of their patients.
Iatrophobia can be caused by a general fear of healthcare settings or from something specific, such as an exaggerated fear of needles. In that example, the fear may start out with a general apprehension of getting a shot, but quickly morph into an all-out panic about excruciating pain and endless complications.
For some, doctor anxiety sets in later in life… after a negative healthcare experience. Remember the exact day your hatred for liver and onions started? Or why you never want to go back to that movie theater on the edge of town? Of course you do. You had a negative experience with both—perhaps it was food poisoning or terrible customer service—that turned you off for life.
One bad trip to the doctor’s office (or one bad doctor) can have the same effect. Unfortunately, skipping out on yearly checkups and preventive screenings comes at a much greater cost than passing up liver and onions at Grandma’s house. You’re not missing much in the way of dinner, but you’re risking your life by not bringing yourself in to get checked by a medical professional.
Who’s Got the Money?
Anxiety attacks in many guises, which makes it an especially difficult monster to kill. You may overcome your fear of contracting a life-threatening staph infection at the hospital, but then, out of nowhere, the equally terrifying thought of paying for your visit creeps in. Medical costs are reaching astronomical proportions and insurance rates are keeping pace.
Money is as common a fear as any that keeps people from going to see their doctor. For the uninsured or underinsured, it may be the single biggest factor that keeps them from scheduling an appointment. If you don’t have medical insurance, want it, but don’t know if you’re eligble, EverydayHealth.com put together a list of qualifying events that allow you to sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act-mandated health insurance marketplaces. You can sign up now if you:
- Recently married or divorced
- Gave birth to or adopted a child, or placed a child for adoption or foster care
- Were recently released from jail or prison
- Are a new U.S. citizen
- Are a member of a federally recognized tribe
- Are an Alaska native shareholder
- Involuntarily lost your health coverage, such as when your employer stopped coverage or you lost a job
- Have aged out of your parents’ insurance plan
- Moved out of your current insurance coverage area
- Own a small business and are applying for coverage for your employees
How to Overcome Fear (and Finances)
The sick irony of iatrophobia is that this level of fear about doctors can extend to other healthcare professionals, including the very therapists who are most qualified to help you overcome your anxiety. Nonetheless, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor is the best course of action for people truly suffering with fear and anxiety.
If you’re in the camp that simply makes excuses for not going to the doctor, take a moment to fully examine your decisions (and excuses). Do you really not have time in your schedule for an hour trip to the clinic? Can you honestly not afford the $30 or $40 co-pay that might end up saving your life should the doctor find a malignant tumor you assumed was a harmless lump of fat? If you can be real with yourself, chances are you can talk yourself into making an appointment to go get things checked out.
From deadly doctor errors to enormous medical bills, legitimate concerns do exist and are worthy of consideration. Still, hiding behind a shroud of fear will not do you any good in the long run. Sometimes the first step is simply to call and schedule an exam. Blocking off an hour on your calendar might be enough to (finally) get you to go see your doctor.