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Good health care doesn't just happen. You have to do your part.
Taking an active role in your health care is the best way to make sure you get
great care and reduce costs at the same time.
It is likely that
you will be faced with one or more of the following health decisions at some
time. Use the skills described in the topic
Making Wise Health Decisions to help you compare your options and decide if the
services or treatments in question are right for you. Try to find out how much you'd have to pay for the care you are considering. If you have health insurance, find out if your plan pays more of the medical care costs if you go to a certain doctor or facility.
your symptoms and the guidelines in this website suggest you should see a
doctor, don't put it off. Ignoring problems often leads to complications that
are more expensive to treat.
Make sure you understand how any medical test will help you before you
agree to it. For instance, ask your doctor if the test results would change how your health problem needs to be managed. Think about your willingness to have treatment or make lifestyle changes if you tested positive for a health problem. The only good
reason to do a test is because the benefits to you outweigh the risks and
costs. No test can be done without your consent. For more information, see the topic
Smart Decisions: Know Your Options.
Medical tests are expensive. If you need a test, do your part to make sure that you do not have
to repeat it. The tips below can make a big difference:
Always ask your doctor about prescription and over-the-counter medicines that you think you want to take.
Find out if there are generic options. Ask what would happen if you chose not to take a medicine and whether there are
alternatives to taking medicine. For more information, see the topic
Smart Decisions: Know Your Options.
Review the questions to ask about surgery in the topic
Smart Decisions: Know Your Options. Get as much
information about the surgery as you can, and consider your needs and values.
Seek a second opinion. If you are not convinced that the benefits to you outweigh the risks and costs, don't
have the surgery.
emergency rooms (ERs) are set up to focus on medical emergencies. They are not
set up to focus on routine health care. If you go to the ER for a problem that
is not an emergency:
Go to the ER if you think you are having a medical
emergency. That's what the ER is for. Otherwise, call your doctor's office
first, or go to a walk-in clinic. It will save you money and time.
few clear rules about what is an emergency and what isn't. Most doctors would
agree on a short list of problems that should always be treated as
emergencies—heart attack symptoms, not being able to breathe,
severe and uncontrolled bleeding, stroke symptoms, and a few others.
Most health problems are not emergencies. You may
want to take care of the problem right away because you feel sick or
uncomfortable, but nothing bad is going to happen to you if you wait a bit.
Then again, you don't always know that for sure. Some problems that seem minor
can become serious if you ignore them. And it may be even harder to know what
to do when a child is sick.
One good question to ask yourself is,
"Am I thinking about going to the ER because it's convenient or because it's necessary?"
If you are choosing the ER because you can get in without an appointment, keep
in mind the high price you will pay for that convenience. You may also have to
wait a long time before you are seen by a doctor. And you may have other
options. You can always call your doctor's office or a nurse line for help.
If you think you are having a medical emergency, call 911 or other emergency services immediately or go to the ER.
don't think the problem is an emergency:
Walk-in clinics are
often called "minor emergency," "urgent care," or "immediate care" centers.
They deal with all kinds of health problems and are often open in the evenings
and on weekends. You do not need an appointment.
These types of
clinics can be a great option when:
Care at a walk-in clinic costs a lot less than care for
the same problem at an ER.
If it turns out you are having a true
medical emergency, a walk-in clinic will send you to the ER.
Unless you have a walk-in clinic in your neighborhood or already know
where one is, it may be hard to find one when you need it. So at your next
doctor visit, ask your doctor to recommend one. Check with your health plan to
see if it offers better coverage at some clinics than others.
If you need inpatient care, get in and out of the
hospital as quickly as possible. This will reduce costs and your risk of
hospital-acquired infections. For more information, see
Navigating Your Hospital Stay. To avoid extra
days in the hospital, you may be able to bring in extra help at home. Ask about home nursing
services to help while you recover.
If you have a terminal
illness, hospitalization may not be your only choice. Many people choose to
spend their remaining time at home with the people they know and love. Special
arrangements can be made through
hospice care programs in most communities. For more information, see the topic Hospice Care.
Specialists are doctors who have in-depth training and experience in a
particular area of medicine. For example, a cardiologist has years of special
training in dealing with heart problems. A visit to a specialist often costs
more than a visit to your regular doctor, and the tests and treatments that you
receive may be more expensive and invasive. Of course, specialists often
provide the information you need to help you decide what to do about a major
health problem and can perform certain procedures not available through your
primary care doctor. For more information about specialists, see the topic Medical Specialists.
If you think you need to see a specialist but
you have not been referred to one, discuss your concerns with your primary care
doctor. When you do have a referral to see a specialist, a little preparation
and good communication can help you get the most out of your visit. Before you go see a
Other Works Consulted
Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Becoming a responsible health care consumer. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 453–484. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Current as of:
September 25, 2012
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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