What’s the answer to tackling human fears?

People in Britain feel a deep affection, almost a reverence, for the NHS. It’s a source of national pride that, whoever you are and wherever you live, you can access health services free at the point of need. In a modern health service, speed of accessing services can be vital: it can mean the difference between surviving cancer and dying from it, between recovering well from the effects of a stroke or living on with life-limiting disability.

Yet, the speed and frequency with which people access services varies considerably, with wealthier, better educated (and, ironically, often healthier) people generally tending to go to the doctor the moment they suspect something might be wrong. Meanwhile less affluent, less informed (and often less healthy) people take longer to go. In 1971, the physician Julian Tudor Hart coined the term “inverse care law” for this phenomenon, and it’s been maddening healthcare professionals ever since. Why is it that the people who are most in need of healthcare won’t seek the medical advice they need?

The NHS has done much to remove the practical barriers to attendance, for example, it has opened GP surgeries at weekends and made it easier to book appointments on line. But a new report1 has highlighted that there are also psychological barriers to accessing health services. “Seeing the doctor” activates some deep and primitive fears: ageing, loss of potency, dependency, physical invasion and, ultimately, death. Of course it makes sense that those who have most to fear, such as those who know or suspect that their lifestyles may be making them ill, or those who have seen their parents’ lives destroyed by disease, are the least willing to see the doctor. We have a new term for this: Fear of Finding Out, coined by the report1. And the NHS is suffering from an epidemic of it.

Dealing with human fears will take more than service reconfiguration or increased opening hours. It needs a Human First approach. That’s why I am very excited about this new collaboration. AbbVie has brought together some of Britain’s smartest and most creative minds to focus on the ‘Fear of Finding Out’. Organisations and thinkers from academia, politics, sport, data, technology, gaming, augmented reality and entertainment. These are organisations, brands, thinkers and creators that know how to make us play, dream and laugh; they know how to inspire us to get off our butts, to take action and to do things we never thought possible.

I don’t know where this project will lead. It might be a technological solution; it might be a creative solution; or it might be a data-driven solution. That is the exciting part.

Listening to some of the real people that were gathered to share their insights for this project, it occurred to me that the antidote to fear may be hope, and for the first time in a while, I feel hopeful that new, fresh and powerful solutions will be found.

Written by Alison Hardy, Live:Lab collaborator and public health marketing expert

  1. AbbVie and 2020health report: The Fear of Finding Out – Identifying psychological barriers to symptom presentation and diagnosis in the UK. 2017. Available at www.2020health.org/2020health/Publications/Publications-2017/FOFO.html.


A closer look at the ‘Fear of Finding Out’

AbbVie, in partnership with 2020health, published a report titled ‘The Fear of Finding Out: identifying psychological barriers to symptom presentation and diagnosis in the UK’. Read more about the psychological barriers preventing adults from making healthier lifestyle choices.

Live:Lab: taking on the health of the nation

The latest figures show that life expectancy is at record levels, thanks to advances in science and medicine, yet much of retirement is being spent in ill health - often in and out of hospital. Find out what AbbVie is doing to develop interventions that will have an impact on health systems and patients.