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Jewish World Review March 26, 2001 / 2 Nissan, 5761

Mike Flannagan

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Consumer Reports

Fewer see doctor, more self-medicate -- Americans are a self-medicating bunch, with three out of four of us saying we would rather treat ourselves at home than go to a doctor, according to a new survey.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans report using an over-the-counter medication in the past year to treat at least one ailment, the Consumer Health Care Products Association found. That's nearly twice as many as had either consulted a doctor or taken a prescription medication.

"Americans are increasingly likely to take their health care into their own hands,'' said Dr. Michael Maves, president of the national trade association. "When they're sick, their first instinct is to reach for a nonprescription medication.''

The random national survey of 1,505 adults, done in January by Roper-Starch Worldwide, found that women generally report more minor health problems than men and are more likely to treat them with nonprescription drugs and dietary supplements.

Roper pollster Holly Heline said the trend toward self-reliance follows "a broad tendency we've seen throughout the past decade of people relying less on large institutions - government, business, employers and now medical organizations - to solve their problems.

"But when they have a major health-care concern, 84 percent said they would first turn to their doctor,'' Heline added.

Maves said the relative cost in time and difficulty of seeing a doctor for a condition not perceived as severe probably also is a factor, combined with the fact that more than 600 one-time prescription drugs have been moved to retail shelves in recent years.

Surprisingly, only a little more than a third of people who said they were over 65 reported having been sick in the past three months, compared to about 53 percent of those who said they were between 18 and 34.

"It may be that as we age, our personal definition of being sick or ill may become more stringent, or our personal tolerance for illness increases,'' Heline said.

Even so, 76 percent of seniors said they had been to a doctor in the last six months, far more than any other age group. There were indications that even those eligible for Medicare find going to the doctor a nuisance.

Fifty-four percent of the elderly said they would rather treat themselves than go to a doctor, and 48 percent said they're more likely to treat their own ailment today than a year ago, which may reflect, in part, rising costs of prescription drugs, Heline said.

Overall, those in the survey said they were most likely (27 percent) to seek advice from family and friends about basic health information, followed by doctors at 20 percent and 7 percent turning first to the Internet.

The study indicated that people are generally careful about how they use over-the-counter remedies. Ninety-five percent said they read the labels before using a product, 91 percent check for possible side effects and interactions, and 89 percent read the labels in the store to help them decide what to buy.

The survey found that 57 percent of adults are either currently using dietary supplements or are researching information about them, with women and older people more likely to fall into this group.

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