What percentage of U.S. adults has visited a doctor of chiropractic in their lifetime? What about in the past year? How about the past five years? And among those who have visited a DC – and those who haven't – what are some of the perceived barriers to care? The Gallup-Palmer College of Chiropractic Inaugural Report: Americans' Perceptions of Chiropractic shares findings from a nationally representative Gallup survey commissioned by Palmer College.
Gallup surveyed 5,442 U.S. adults ages 18 and older via the Web and mail from Feb. 16 – May 6, 2015, assessing their experiences with, and perceptions of, chiropractic. Responses shed light on these and many other questions that have been an ongoing source of speculation inside and outside the profession.
The opening sentence of the report's executive summary provides optimistic data in terms of consumer utilization of chiropractic care: "About half of adults in the U.S. have been to a chiropractor as a patient. Fourteen percent of adults say they saw a chiropractor in the last 12 months, 12% say they saw a chiropractor in the last five years, and 25% say they saw a chiropractor more than five years ago."
The good news is that 14 percent of the adult population (33.6 million) has seen a doctor of chiropractic in the past year. This is a significantly higher utilization percentage than suggested by the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, which put the percentage at approximately 8 percent (20.6 million) annually for the past 10 years. We can feel a certain level of confidence in this data, as the Gallup organization included this question in two unrelated surveys, yielding essentially the same percentage.
Even more good news: According to the report, approximately half of U.S. adults (51 percent or about 123 million) have seen a DC at least once in their lives. Again, this is significantly favorable compared to the 2012 NHIS report, which suggested only about one in four U.S. adults has visited a chiropractor.
Here are some of the other key findings from the inaugural Gallup-Palmer report (the survey will be repeated for at least two more years):
- Efficacy / safety: More than half of adults surveyed (61 percent) have a positive opinion about DCs, "strongly" or "somewhat" agreeing they are effective at treating back / neck pain. That said, nearly 25 percent of adults strongly or somewhat agree that chiropractic care is dangerous, while one-third are unsure if it's dangerous. For the 51 percent of adults who have never visited a DC, almost half said they were uncertain about the possible danger. Expected number of visits, provider trustworthiness and educational requirements to become a DC are other uncertainties in this group.
- Insurance / costs: Other potential barriers to care illuminated in survey responses include not knowing whether health insurance covers chiropractic care and a perception that care is too expensive. Nearly 50 percent of adults surveyed said they are unaware of whether their insurance covers chiropractic care, while 43 percent said they believe chiropractic care is too expensive. In fact, among former patients who said they had not visited a DC for more than five years, 46 percent stated reduced cost would encourage them to go more often.
- Gender differences: Women reported 11.5 annual visits to a DC, on average, compared with 9.4 annual visits for men. In line with this finding, women are more likely to want to see a DC regularly, even if they are not in pain, compared to men.
- Age factors: The 18-35 age group is less likely to have visited a chiropractor, but "there are positive signs that many from this group could become users if they were to experience neck or back pain." Older adults are less likely than adults younger than age 50 to say a DC would be their first provider choice when experiencing back or neck pain.
- The complete Gallup-Palmer College report is available for free download / review, along with related resources including an open-access article based on the survey findings published online in JMPT.
- DC Publisher Donald Petersen Jr. discusses the survey findings, focusing on the disturbing revelation that 25 percent of patients who have visited a chiropractor admit they have not returned within the past five years – in his report of findings, "The Missing 91 Million Patients"
- Palmer College discussed the survey findings in detail during a free Oct. 8 webinar hosted by Dynamic Chiropractic. You can access the event via our online webinar archives at your convenience.