Objective: Identifying positive psychological factors that reduce health care use may lead to innovative efforts that help build a more sustainable and high-quality health care system. Prospective studies indicate that life satisfaction is associated with good health behaviors, enhanced health, and longer life, but little information about the association between life satisfaction and health care use is available. We tested whether higher life satisfaction was prospectively associated with fewer doctor visits. We also examined potential interactions between life satisfaction and health behaviors.
Methods: Participants were 6379 adults from the Health and Retirement Study, a prospective and nationally representative panel study of American adults older than 50 years. Participants were tracked for 4 years. We analyzed the data using a generalized linear model with a gamma distribution and log link.
Results: Higher life satisfaction was associated with fewer doctor visits. On a 6-point life satisfaction scale, each unit increase in life satisfaction was associated with an 11% decrease in doctor visits—after adjusting for sociodemographic factors (relative risk = 0.89, 95% confidence interval = 0.86–0.93). The most satisfied respondents (n = 1121; 17.58%) made 44% fewer doctor visits than did the least satisfied (n = 182; 2.85%). The association between higher life satisfaction and reduced doctor visits remained even after adjusting for baseline health and a wide range of sociodemographic, psychosocial, and health-related covariates (relative risk = 0.96, 95% confidence interval = 0.93–0.99).
Conclusions: Higher life satisfaction is associated with fewer doctor visits, which may have important implications for reducing health care costs.