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Women See Doctors More than Men

Annual, preventive care matters to nation's women, study finds

FRIDAY, July 27, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- American women are a lot more likely to see a doctor than men, a new government study reveals.

If you exclude visits to the obstetrician, women still are a third more likely to visit their doctors than men, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says in a report released this week. Women are more likely to go to their doctors for annual checkups and preventive care, and they are dramatically more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant, the CDC says.

"This confirms what we've known but not really presented in any kind of formal way," says Kate Brett, lead study author and senior research scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics. "One of the things the researchers did was to include family planning clinics in the mix, which had not been included in any previous surveys," she says.

Brett and her colleagues used data from the 1997 and 1998 National Ambulatory Care Survey and the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The surveys captured information on the age, race and insurance coverage of patients and the type of care provided. Both also described the 500 million visits to doctors, emergency rooms and outpatient clinics made each year by women over age 15.

"Women go to the doctor more than men, about 33 percent more, and that's after we've excluded visits to medical care for pregnancy. And they are going to the doctors for things that are not acute conditions, such as preventive care or annual visits. They are twice as likely to go to the doctor for non-illness care than men," Brett says.

Among the study's other findings:

  • On average, women made about 4.6 visits per year to the doctor.
  • Younger women were more likely to see primary-care physicians; women over 65 went to see specialists.
  • More than four of five visits were made to doctor's offices, not emergency rooms or outpatient clinics.
  • The most common diagnostic service for women was blood pressure screening, performed in about half of all visits. Pelvic exams and urinalysis were performed in about 14 percent of the visits.

"The most commonly prescribed drugs were non-narcotic analgesics like Tylenol," Brett says. "Doctors then most commonly prescribed estrogens or other hormones and antidepressants." Birth control pills account for the estrogen prescription, Brett says, "and doctors are using hormones for hormone replacement treatment for older women."

Brett says, "What's even more interesting is the rate of antidepressant use among women. Antidepressant drugs for women are prescribed as much as all kinds of central-nervous-system drugs for men, and by that I mean antidepressants, plus tranquilizers, plus anti-anxiety medication."

"Women are conditioned from an early age that preventive care -- such things as Pap smears -- are an essential part of women's health, whereas men's preventive care -- such things as recommended annual check-ups -- don't really start until middle age. And women are going to the doctor much more often for acute care, much more than men for such things as colds, the flu, the upper respiratory illnesses," Brett says.

So are men are stoic about their health?

"If people have done actual psychological studies on why women go to the doctor and men don't, I certainly don't know about them," says Amy Allina, program director for the National Women's Health Network. "There are a couple of theories I've heard about, and one would certainly be that men are not socialized to seek help."

"But there may be a simpler explanation," Allina suggests. "It may be that women have already established a relationship with a health-care provider. Certainly women get early training in going to a doctor, often because they are seeking contraception and because they are advised that annual gynecological exams are important for their health. So when they are ill or they need preventive care, it's less of a hassle to go to a health-care provider."

What To Do: For a closer look at the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, visit the National Center for Health Statistics. And for more on women's health, see the National Women's Health Information Center.

SOURCES: Interviews with Kate Brett, senior research scientist, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.; Amy Allina, program director, National Women's Health Network; Washington, D.C.; July 25, 2001, Utilization of Ambulatory Medical Care by Women: United States, 1997-98
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