by Dr. Shantanu Nundy, MD
Dr. Shantanu Nundy is a resident physician at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Dr. Nundy writes frequently on the topic of preventive health care on his blog, www.beyondapples.org.
Stick with what works
It surprises many people that just as there are medical trials to study new drugs or medical devices, doctors also research approaches to keep patients healthy. Some preventive care is studied and proven to work (like mammograms), others have not been studied or have been studied and are unproven (like "routine" blood work). Doing away with any health care that isn't sure to benefit you is an easy way to save money.
Be your own best advocate
If your doctor recommends a test that isn't covered by your health insurance company, don't take no for answer. Ask your doctor to appeal the decision before paying for it yourself. If you don't have insurance, call up your city or state health department. For established preventive health services, like vaccinations and cancer screenings, many local governments have public programs that are just as good as any other.
Do it on your own
For many diseases including dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, and even diabetes, the first step in treatment - before starting a potentially costly medication - is to try and get the disease under control with diet and exercise alone. Doctors often turn to their prescription pads first because most patients cannot make the changes necessary. But lifestyle modifications work! Not only will you save money, but unlike medications, the benefits of healthier choices go well beyond treating one disease.
Don't be afraid to speak up.
It's normal to spend weeks shopping for a new car or hours hunting down a department store sale, but when it comes to health care our thriftiness goes out the door. When you get the pharmacy, if the medicine you are picking up seems too expensive, it probably is. Most diseases can be treated by more than one medication, and doctors often pick one medication over another more out of habit than for effectiveness or cost. Before shelling over a week's wages, call your doctor and find out what your options are. If there is no substitute, shop around pharmacies.
When all else fails, invest in yourself.
These days most of us don't have extra money to spend on anything. The last thing we need is another cost. But health care, especially preventive care, isn't a cost. It's an investment. While this change in attitude won't help your bank account, it hopefully will make you feel better about it.
Dr. Shantanu Nundy is a resident physician at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where his responsibilities include maintaining a panel of general medicine patients and caring for patients on the hospital wards. He is also the author of Stay Healthy At Every Age: What Your Doctor Wants You to Know (The Johns Hopkins University Press, April 2010). Dr. Nundy writes frequently on the topic of preventive health care on his blog, www.beyondapples.org.