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An ounce of prevention in the economic downturn

April 8, 2009 | 10:12 am

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Doctors are reporting that patients are putting off preventive care during the economic downturn -- things like blood cholesterol checks, colonoscopies and management of chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. (Read about it here in a Los Angeles Times story.)

It's a money saver, but it could be a bad idea. Dr. Brian Johnston, medical director of the emergency department at White Memorial Medical Center in East Los Angeles, says at the end of the article, "I say to patients, 'If the transmission fails in your car, you would put out money to fix that ... your heart, kidneys and brain are more valuable than your car.' "

Here's some more potentially helpful formation that didn't make it into the article:

* Doctors may negotiate prices, Johnston said: “It’s worth asking. Find out if there is some way they would agree to see you and take care of you.”

* A modest investment in home test kits, such as a home blood pressure monitor for hypertension or a peak flow meter for asthma can also help people monitor their health, Johnston advised. And now, he said, may be a good time to take up exercise, stop smoking or address other bad health habits.

* More practitioners are helping their clients continue care by offering healthcare credit cards that carry no interest and no payments for one year, said Michael Fulbright, a Redondo Beach dentist quoted in the story. “It’s a way to offer my patients something so they can get their work done. We have to ask ourselves how are we going to keep the patients we have?” he said.

Finally, recent surveys suggest that some Americans, including people who have been laid off, are trying to improve their health and manage stress by joining gyms. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub  Assn., a trade group for commercial gyms, memberships increased in the last quarter of 2008, and modest growth is forecast for this year.

Nilo Sarraf, who has a degree in cognitive psychology, was laid off from her Bay Area-job in December. She founded a nonprofit group called Layoffs Cafe, a support network for people who are looking for jobs.
She has health insurance but doesn’t want to use it because of the out-of-pocket costs. She lacks dental and vision insurance, which is a bigger problem at the moment. She is trying to wear her monthly contact lenses for two or three months to stretch her dwindling supply.

 But Sarraf, who is in her 30s, also says she is taking better care of herself. She tries to eat healthy and recently splurged on a $50-per-month gym membership. “I see it as an investment,” she said.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Dena Lansford of Wildomar lost her job and health insurance last year. She is postponing any preventive care until she gets a job with benefits. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

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