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Why Is Military Service The ‘Unasked Question’ At The Doctor’s Office?

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Doctors with a patient

When you go to the doctor, you expect her to ask you about your personal history. Do you smoke? Do you have a relative with cancer? Have you ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure?

Yet less than half of patients (43 percent) who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces report their doctors asking about their military service, according to a new report by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

This "unasked question" could be detrimental to the patient's health care, because both active-duty service members and veterans are at greater risk for "chronic physical and mental conditions."

The AAMC reports many of these military patients use private health insurance, although they may qualify for government health care:

A larger percentage of current and former military service personnel had private health insurance (36 percent) than any other type of coverage during the mostrecent time they needed health care, including either TRICARE insurance or VA services (9 percent and 13 percent, respectively).

AAMC

Indeed, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, at least 1.4 million veterans have used civilian health care providers since 2001 - making it more unlikely their past military service will come up in analyzing their medical history.

The AAMC recommends physicians not just ask if their patients have been in the military, but to probe deeper about their service:

Health care providers have the opportunity to address the unique health needs of the military population based on how, when, and where the person served.

These insights can help shape changes the medical education community makes to increase awareness around this issue particularly as many medical trainees will practice outside the military system, where military personnel are often indistinguishable unless directly asked these questions.

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