Monday, February 2, 2009

The Ailing Economy is Making People Sicker

At Massachusetts General Hospital, patients whose blood pressure was in check just weeks ago now find it rocketing out of control. They blame the economy. At Boston Medical Center, obese patients who had been shedding weight are packing on pounds again as they resort to cheaper, high-calorie food and abandon gym memberships. They blame the economy. At a Framingham doctor's office, patients forgo screening tests such as colonoscopies because they don't want to spend scarce dollars on copayments. They blame the economy. In hospital wards and medical clinics across Massachusetts, doctors see growing evidence that the ill economy is making patients sick, spawning headaches and churning stomachs, and even causing bouts of anxiety and depression among people who never before sought psychiatric help. The chief of outpatient medicine at Boston Medical estimates that financial turmoil figures into at least half of all patient visits, and at one of the nation's premier psychiatric hospitals, McLean in Belmont, 31 percent more patients were admitted last month than in December 2007. ‘I've been stunned by how pervasive the impact of the current economic downturn is on the health of my brood,’ said Dr. Stephen Hoffmann, whose medical practice in Framingham has nearly 3,000 patients. The economic crisis is far too fresh for any government agency or professional organization to have quantified the health consequences. But during previous recessions, researchers linked spikes in unemployment in the United States and Europe to increases in deaths from heart disease, cancer, and psychiatric disorders. In her practice treating obese patients at Boston Medical, Dr. Caroline Apovian recently saw a woman who had been dutifully following advice to eat less and exercise more. She had joined a gym and moved to a safer neighborhood. But then the economy tanked. ‘She suddenly couldn't afford the YMCA, and she couldn't afford the area where she moved,’ Apovian said. ‘Now, she is regaining the weight.’ At hospitals and clinics that treat psychiatric disorders, requests for help surged markedly in recent months, with some patients indicating they had cut back on medication to save money.”

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