Determinants of three stages of delay in seeking care at a medical clinic

Med Care. 1979 Jan;17(1):11-29. doi: 10.1097/00005650-197901000-00002.


Factors affecting delay were studied in patients seeking treatment for the first time for a particular symptom at clinics in a major, innercity hospital. On the basis of the patients' retrospective report, the total time from first noticing a symptom to the seeking of treatment was divided into three sequential stages: 1) appraisal delay--the time the patient takes to appraise a symptom as a sign of illness; 2) illness delay--the time taken from deciding one is ill until deciding to seek professional medical care; and 3) utilization delay--the time from the decision to seek care until the patient goes to the clinic and uses its services. The variables used to predict the length of delay for each of the three stages and for total delay included reports on concrete, sensory perceptions and abstract, conceptual beliefs about one's symptoms, behavioral factors such as strategies for self-appraisal and techniques for coping with illness, emotional reactions, negative imagery elicited by the illness threat, situational barriers, and socio-demographic factors. Patients experiencing a very painful symptom and patients who did not read about their symptom had a short appraisal delay. Patients with old symptoms and those who imagined possible, severe consequences of their illness had long illness delays. Utilization delay was shortest for persons who were not concerned about the cost of treatment, who had a painful symptom, and who were certain that their symptom could be cured. Patients who had short total delays were persons who did not have a competing personal problem and who had a painful symptom. All of these predictors were significantly correlated with the measure of delay at or beyond the p = .01 level. It was concluded that different factors mediate delay in each of the three stages and that studies which use only a single measure of total delay are likely to be of limited value in understanding delay.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Decision Making*
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Outpatient Clinics, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Sick Role
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Time Factors*
  • Time*
  • United States
  • Urban Population