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Do You Avoid Visiting A Doctor Until You Absolutely Have To? You're Not Alone

FIT spoke to experts as well as people who put off consulting doctors until they absolutely have to.

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Madhusree Goswami, a 31-year-old journalist based in Noida, hadn't been to a doctor’s office in nine years.

But in April of this year, she had to break her record of almost a decade when she started experiencing frequent bouts of pain in her upper abdomen and was diagnosed with gallbladder stones.

Even then, Goswami only made the trip after weeks of powering through discomfort, taking the age-old advice ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ rather too seriously.

But it’s not just Goswami. A 2019 study published in the Indian Journal of Public Health suggested,

“In low and middle-income countries like India, people often avoid prescribed medical treatment even when they suffer from ailments.”

Why is that the case? FIT spoke to experts, as well as people who put off consulting doctors until they absolutely have to. Here's what they said.

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‘Fear, Distrust’: Why People Avoid Doctors

  • 'Hospitals are scary'

Goswami explains, she avoids doctors and hospitals because she has an inherent fear of injections. She says, "My reason for not going to them is primarily fear. I fear that a visit to the doctor will mean them administering an injection."

Mayank Chawla, a 27-year-old video producer in Noida, agrees with Goswami. He, too, fears needles and blood, he tells FIT,

"Hospitals are very gloomy and eerie. The thought that someone is being operated across these walls is also very harrowing."
Mayank, 27

But fear alone is not always the driving factor. Goswami says she also, from the very bottom of her heart, hates that typical 'hospital smell'.

But there are other reasons as well that are more socio-economic than psychological, per se.

  • Limited time and funds

Chawla’s work timings are so erratic that more often than not, he cannot take 2-3 hours out of his day to go visit a doctor. He adds, “My earnings restrict me to spend 750 bucks (consultation fees) every time I fall ill.”

Zaheeb Ajmal, a 36-year-old researcher based in Patna, shares the same apprehensions as Chawla. He feels that every time he visits a doctor, he has to burn a hole in his pocket to pay for the consultation, the tests, and then for the medicines as well.

“Sometimes I fear it will be a recurring cost if the cure takes a long time,” says Ajmal.

  • Distrust in Doctors

The apprehension that bigger hospitals might take you for a ride is also present. Chawla tells FIT,

“Sometime back I took a friend who was feeling breathless to the hospital. He underwent at least six tests in a span of three days including blood tests, X ray, ECG, Holter monitoring, and CT scan, and the doctors still could not give him the root cause of the issue.”
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Dr Sanjay Kumavat, Consultant Psychiatrist & Sexologist at Mulund’s Fortis Hospital, tells FIT that apart from these, there can be multiple other psychological reasons as well that people avoid doctors. Some of these might be:

  • People not wanting to acknowledge that they can fall sick too

  • Belief that whatever the doctor is saying or prescribing is for their own personal financial gains

  • Fear of a chronic illness being diagnosed or of requiring a surgery

But, he too agrees that on a structural level, there are certain lacunae due to which people avoid doctors.

“For people coming from rural or backward areas, the concerns might also include a lack of infrastructure at the hospitals, lack of doctors, lack of medications, lab facilities, etc.”
Dr Sanjay Kumavat

Dr Deepa Giri, a gynaecologist at Navi Mumbai's Apollo Hospitals, also feels that stigma and embarrassment also contribute to this gap, especially when it comes to sexual health.

"People, especially women, lose out on preventive treatment often because they fear how their caregivers might perceive them if they open up. There is a clear gender bias across sections of society that ends up victimising women, more so those who might be pregnant and unmarried," Dr Giri tells FIT.

There is also a lack of awareness about how the healthcare system functions, and insurance agencies also not covering certain procedures or denying genuine claims. 

Moreover, despite there being welfare schemes in place, they often get tangled in red tape.

A report in The Times of India earlier this week showed how private hospitals in Karnataka have not been enthusiastic about the government's Arogya Karnataka health insurance scheme, with only 10-12 percent of hospitals acting on the scheme.

‘Dua, Not Dawa’: How They Manage When They Fall Sick

Not going to the doctor, however, does not mean that you’re never going to fall sick. And when these people inevitably do, how is it that they manage?

Chawla says that he likes to give time to his body and immune system to take its own course of action.

“When I catch a cold/fever/infection, I don’t take medicines for a day and allow my body’s immunity to fight back.”
Mayank Chawla

If the ailment persists even after a day, that’s when he’d take a painkiller or generic medicine. He feels consulting his local chemist, who has a “good knowledge of medicines” helps him resolve his issues “before a consultation/prescription round.”

A study done by consumer group Voluntary Organisation in Interest of Consumer Education in 2002 showed that 60 percent Indians bought medicines putting their trust in chemists, rather than consulting a doctor. 

Ajmal, on the other hand, likes to rely on home remedies or “gharelu nuske,” which he swears works wonders for him.

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How Long Can You Actually Go Without Consulting A Doctor?

Well, you might actually feel okay for multiple years without consulting a doctor, but internally, your body might not be doing the best. 

In Goswami’s case, she avoided the doctor until she could not bear the pain any more. This, Dr Vaishali Lokhande, Consultant, General Medicine, at Navi Mumbai’s Apollo Hospitals, says is not the smartest thing to do. 

Recent studies by Lancet and the Indian Council of Medical Research have shown that diabetes, heart attacks, stroke are getting more and more common in younger people too due to a growing sedentary lifestyle and increasing stress levels in people.

Dr Lokhande says, “If you go for regular check-ups, you might detect cancer, uncontrolled sugar, or even cardiac resistance at very early stages, start your treatment process on time, and have a smooth recovery.”

She firmly believes that when you go to a doctor with symptoms, the doctor’s job is damage control. But regular check-ups will ensure prevention and avoid the very need for damage control in the longer run.  

And she doesn’t just mean this for people over the age of 30. She recognises that a lot of people prefer over the counter medicines rather than consultation, so she shares a simple hack – if you have more than one symptom of anything, consult a doctor.

“Even if you have a simple headache but it has multiple symptoms like vomitting, dizziness, fainting, loss of balance, vision problems, and this exceeds a certain amount of time, you should consult a doctor. If it’s just a mild headache briefly, taking a painkiller should be fine.”
Dr Vaishali Lokhande

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Health   Doctors   National Doctor's Day 

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