Get Your Medical Care Money's Worth

Get Your Medical Care Money's Worth

A physician's tips for saving money and getting quality health care.

Like most Americans, you're likely paying more of your health care out of pocket. You may be "going bare" without health insurance. Or, you may have higher deductibles and co-payments, or have chosen a Health Savings Account plan.

Whatever's your situation, there are simple steps take to save money without jeopardizing your health and ensure you're getting the most for your medical dollars. Consider these tips from Dr. Angel M. Garcia, an internist practicing for more than 25 years.

Garcia, author of Do No Harm: Saving Our Health-Care System, says you are your own first line of defense in a health care industry stressed at every level. "No physician is beyond becoming burnt out," he concedes. And you may be more likely to recognize the symptoms quicker than your doctor.

"Physicians who are working mechanically, who no longer enjoy practicing medicine can be a danger to their patients. The issue is one that a patient should talk about with their doctor. You could just say, 'Hey, Doc, you seem tired. Are you OK?' You may be surprised how much your doctor appreciates your concern."

Garcia offers these simple ways to save health care dollars and ensure they are well spent:

For minor illnesses, try over-the-counter medications: Some illnesses might be resolved with non-prescription drugs. Caution: If symptoms aren't resolved in three to five days, or if they go away but keep returning, you must see a doctor. Garcia recommends Zyrtec-D 12-hour (or a generic version) for allergic sinusitis and upper respiratory infections. He recommends hydrocortisone cream for rashes and bug bites. He advises Prilosec (or the generic) for heartburn and Imodium AD (or the generic) for diarrhea.

Talk to your doctor. If you can't, change doctors! It doesn't matter whether he or she is is nationally renowned or a Harvard graduate. If your physician doesn't have time to listen to you, or doesn't seem interested, find a new doctor. A good place to start is references from friends. Be sure to ask whether they're happy with their doctor's bedside manner. "Arrogant but good" is not what you want.

Prepare to get the most from your visit: The doctor will want to know your chief complaint, when the problem began, how it progressed, what makes it better or worse, and any associated symptoms, such as fever. List them beforehand.

Your physician needs to know what medications you take, including the drug name, dosage, how it's administered and frequency. Again, list them on paper, and take then with you to your appointment.

Suspect you have a serious illness? Take a confidante (a spouse, family member or friend) with you. Four ears are better at hearing your doctor than just two.

Don't skip the follow-up visit: Some patients skip these because they feel better. That may just mean the medications have temporarily relieved the symptoms. The follow-up is worth the money to ensure your health care problem is resolved and no abnormalities remain.
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