Many people find discussing health matters uncomfortable and tend to shy away from those conversations. Some even consider it a sort of taboo, as though speaking about health concerns will somehow make a disease or illness come upon them.
The belief that you only fear what you know runs rampant, and a lot of people become deliberately ignorant about their health. Unfortunately, what you don’t know certainly can hurt not only you, but also others around you.
In behavioural psychology, the “Ostrich Effect” is the tendency to avoid potentially dangerous or negative information by simply closing oneself off from this information. Individuals who purposely avoid medical tests may have fallen victim to the Ostrich Effect. This reluctance to get tested can lead to severe consequences, such as getting a late-stage diagnosis or unknowingly spreading contagious diseases to others.
To better understand the many reasons a person might be averse to information concerning their health, we must understand why people want information. In our Clinical Visits survey we asked 80 respondents a few questions to get a general sense of their perspective towards their health.
Despite 82.5% of the respondents claiming to be very concerned about their health, only 25% reported getting medical tests without any reason for concern within the last year; a majority of respondents said they either take medical tests only when they fall sick or when they have a health concern.
People are naturally inclined to want information, even medical information, in the hope that it will help them make better decisions. We found this to be true among our survey respondents: 87.5% of respondents were willing to take medical tests even though they felt well.
However, we see a decline in the number of people willing to get tested when respondents were told that the test result information may not help them with a cure, even if it would help them make better decisions concerning their health.
When we asked respondents whether they were willing to take tests for curable diseases like Malaria, Typhoid, and Herpes when they felt well, only 80% answered in the affirmative. The number further declined to 77.5% when we asked respondents whether they would take tests when they felt well for incurable but manageable diseases like Hypertension, Diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and HIV/AIDS.
Having information on the status of your health is incredibly useful. Even when testing identifies diseases with no cure, in many cases this new knowledge will help you make better decisions about your health and improve your long-term health outcomes. Take diabetes for instance; although diabetes does not have a cure, if you are aware that you have the condition you are able to manage your diabetes through diet, exercise, and medication. Not only does diabetes management improve your quality of life, it can also help you avoid serious complications that can arise from unmanaged diabetes, such as the loss of a limb.
Another huge potential consequence of information aversion is the unintentional spread of contagious diseases like herpes and HIV/AIDS. You not only put yourself at risk, but you put others at risk too when you avoid getting tested for infectious diseases.
Then there’s the issue of early diagnosis. For many diseases, such as cancers and heart disease, the timing of diagnosis and the stage at which the disease is identified has huge implications for your health. Waiting until you fall sick or start developing symptoms may leave you with fewer treatment options and worse long-term health outcomes than if you had detected the condition in its early stages through a preventive health check.
A healthy individual is healthy, and an unhealthy one is unhealthy. It is significant to point out that despite the potential negatives to knowing your health status (especially the effect it could have on your mental health if you have an incurable disease or cannot afford treatment), not knowing is likely the far greater harm, as it deprives you of information that could help you make better decisions around your health and the health of others.
SentinelX is a membership-based health practice that emphasizes preventive, personalized, and continuous care. We combine human touch with technology to make primary care cheaper, faster, and more accessible to enable you live your healthiest life.