The patient-doctor disconnect

A 2009 poll of 2,000 Americans by GE Healthcare, the Cleveland Clinic and Ochsner Health System in New Orleans is an elegant example of optimism bias at work. More than half the respondents said other people’s health “was going in the wrong direction,” compared with 17 percent who characterized their own health that way.

Only one-quarter to one-third knew their personal basic health numbers – body-mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood-glucose level – yet the majority said keeping those numbers in a good range was important to health.

About 95 percent said regular physician checkups were important, but 70 percent admitted avoiding their doctors by hoping health problems would go away or asking a friend for medical advice.

Pollsters asked respondents to grade their health behaviors, and asked doctors to do the same. One out of 3 gave themselves an “A” for nutrition, exercise and personal health management. More than 90 percent of the doctors, however, graded patients “C” or worse on these.

Let someone else foot the bill

Another survey reflected Americans’ strong sense of personal control over their health, but also their reluctance to accept financial responsibility for it.

The Vitality Group surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. adults in 2008. About 82 percent said they alone were responsible for their health. However, 44 percent said they should bear no responsibility for paying for their health care, while 56 percent thought they should pick up part of the cost. Six out of 10 thought their employer should be partially responsible, and about one-half believed the government should pick up the tab.