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Personality predicts who spends the most money on health care

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Neurotic people tend to use health care services more than others, finds a new study.

We all know people who seem to consume health care like candy. For instance, a twinge of back pain sends some people to the emergency room while others keep moving and ‘wait and see’. A new study highlights how an individual's personality can predict higher health care costs.

The study

The study result, published yesterday in the journal The Milbank Quarterly is the first to show that personality traits can be linked to how people seek specific medical services.

The researchers looked at use of emergency room use, hospital stays, hospital-based rehabilitation, skilled nursing home stays, custodial nursing home care, and home health care and home-based custodial care.

Bruce Friedman, M.P.H., Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Public Health Sciences and lead author of the study said in a press release, "It is important for health care systems to recognize that personality characteristics are associated with how individuals use health care services, and design interventions that redirect patients towards lower cost solutions to their health problems that are just as effective."

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Neurotic people consume more health services

What the study found is that people who scored higher for neuroticism were 24 percent more likely to go to the emergency room more often and twice as likely to spend time in a long-term care facility or nursing home, compared to individuals with scored lower.

The reason, the study authors say is because people with neurotic tendencies feel insecure, frightened, anxious or angry.
The study participants were given standardized questionnaires called the NEO-FFI that asks whether a person laughs easily, tends to get into arguments, if they feel inferior or if they like being around other people.

The study is important for understanding how to reduce health care costs. Insurance coverage is now estimated to cost around $16,000 per family. Increased spending on health services is contrary to the impetus behind the Affordable Health Care Act.

Understanding personality types could help keep people from over utilizing services like the emergency room and also help target people who tend to underutilize medical care.

"These finding have a range of potential implications in terms of how clinicians and health systems deliver patient-centered care," said Friedman. "Customizing interventions to a person's personality profile could be one of the keys to ensuring the appropriate use of health services and containing the continuing rise in health care costs."