Millennials Avoid the Doctor, and That’s a Big Problem
By Erin Kayata
To me, there is nothing like going to see a doctor. Long waits in exam rooms? Love them. Potentially invasive bodily exams? Go ahead. Blood work and shots? Sign me up! OK, maybe not that far. All unappealing factors aside, doctor’s visits are actually a positive experience for me. What I like about going to see a doctor isn’t the exams and procedures, but the knowledge and control over my health that it provides.
However, as a 22-year-old, I am in the minority for my age group when it comes to this perspective. Nine out of 10 millennials don’t schedule preventative doctor’s visits, less than any other age group, according to a ZocDoc survey.
There are a variety of factors playing into this. One is the availability of easy, if not sensational, diagnoses, thanks to the Internet. Millennials are more prone to self-diagnosis than any other age group, with 28 percent saying they would try to self-diagnose a lump on their neck, according to a 2014 survey. The same survey also found that 36 percent would even try to treat the lump themselves. Frugality is another factor. With millennials making less money than any previous generation, they care more about price, and rising healthcare costs often keep them away from doctor’s offices.
But for many millennials, their lack of health care comes down to the fact that they don’t think they have time for doctors. The same Zocdoc survey found that nearly one in two people will cancel a doctor’s appointments if they’re too busy. With jobs being tight and work hours increasing for nearly half of all millennials, few are willing to make the sacrifice of taking time off, even for the sake of their health.
It was easy for me to fall prey to this mentality. As a full-time student, doctor’s appointments are saved for the summer. Even then, I sometimes put them off for work. I’ve only visited the health and wellness center once in the four years of my college career, and only after I was unable to speak for several days due to a nasty sinus infection. (You better believe I still went to class, though.) I was known for never missing a class and dragging myself to school sick even in high school, dedicated to the idea that the more work you do, the better off you are, no matter what the circumstances.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I began to warm up to the idea of taking time to see a doctor. After trying and failing to move my annual physical so that I wouldn’t have to take time off from work, I finally took a half-day to keep my appointment. What I dreaded doing for fear of missing out on work actually put me in a great mood. I got a chance to talk with my doctor and address any health concerns, and she confirmed that all was well with me. I felt healthier just leaving the office.
A few months later, I was reading an article written for the publication I was working for about people who fake food allergies and why these people need to stop. I first felt indignant at these fakers, until I realized I could unintentionally be one of them: I was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at 3 and was always told to avoid all nuts, something I never questioned. There was a chance I’d outgrown this allergy, and everyone from my parents to my roommates harangued me about getting retested. But my allergy is genetic, so I was comfortable assuming that I still had it, since the odds of outgrowing it weren’t in my favor. The absence of nuts from my diet didn’t bother me, and my allergy wasn’t severe enough that it impeded my day-to-day life. So why bother taking the time to get retested? But this article got me wondering – what if I could eat nuts after all?
I immediately began scheduling an appointment with an allergist. I experienced the same issues many millennials complain about: I had trouble getting a person on the phone to schedule the appointment and difficulty figuring out whether my insurance would help cover it. But once I overcame these hurdles, everything else was surprisingly easy. I got an appointment for a few weeks later and was lucky enough to have a flexible job at the time, in addition to the insurance coverage I needed. I even started to get a little excited, daydreaming about what candy I would try first if my tests came back negative.
It was a Friday morning in October when I hauled myself over to the allergy clinic a few blocks from my apartment. The testing itself wasn’t very painful. I had a full panel scratch test done, so that I could find out about any other allergies while I had the chance. I also had blood work, so the doctor could determine the severity of my nut allergies.
The verdict came back 50/50. I tested positive for peanuts, Brazil nuts, almonds and hazelnuts, but was cleared for pecans, pistachios, cashews and walnuts. I also tested positive for a slew of other allergens that had never bothered me before (such as dogs, despite living harmoniously with my Lab, Lucy, for several years). The doctor explained that these allergies were probably minor, but knowing I was prone to them could help me if I reacted in the future. I was just thrilled with my negative nut results. I went home that night and ate pistachios and pecans for the first time ever. Even now, a few months later, I still get excited when snacking on cashews or finally getting to eat my grandmother’s cranberry-walnut bread.
More important than my happiness was the sense of empowerment I got from getting tested. Upon leaving the clinic, I called my mom with the results, and she revealed that I’d probably never been allergic to these nuts all along. The doctor never bothered to give me a full test when I was little, and I’d been avoiding nuts my whole life due to an offhanded recommendation.
“She said there was a chance you could eat them and be fine one time and have a severe reaction the next time,” my mom said. “We just didn’t want to take the chance. I still don’t want you eating them.” I gently pointed out that could apply to almost any food and that this current test was more reliable than a doctor’s advice from 1997.
Taking the time to actually a visit the doctor was worth it, needles and all. It’s easy to rely on old diagnosis or your computer, or use work as an excuse to avoid medical appointments. In the end, my visit ended up opening doors in my life, for better or worse, and changed my view of doctors. When it came time to visit the dreaded gynecologist in December, I was more than ready. New knowledge about my body and ways to improve my quality of life? Bring it.
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