The doctor’s office can be one of the most uncomfortable places in the world. You’re sick, you’re worried about what’s wrong, and you’re probably not fully clothed. Most of us just want to get out of there as fast as possible, but when the news isn’t good, there are tough choices to be made about treatment and the cost of your options and those shouldn’t be rushed.
Peter Ubel, a physician and behavioral scientist at Duke University, says better communication with your doctor can save you money on your medical bills, if you ask the right questions. Ubel is also author of the book “Critical Decisions: How You and Your Doctor Can Make the Right Medical Choices Together.”
He says that when you are faced with bad news from a physician, thinking about the best option for your wallet is often the last thing on people’s minds.
“You’re thinking about your health and then — even if money does come up — I bet most people are wondering, ‘Is it even appropriate for me to mention that?'” he says.
Ubel says it’s absolutely appropriate. The right medical treatment depends on the pros and cons of your alternatives, he says, including the costs.
Still, if it’s a matter of life or death, how important is it to consider money?
“Money is part of our lives,” says Ubel. “Often there are alternatives out there and you need to know what those alternatives are. Maybe there is no other good alternative and you’ll have to decide to find a way to find the money.”
Ubel says if you don’t have to leap into a decision, you should ask what your alternatives are. For example, if one of your options is to take a generic drug rather than the brand-name counterpart, that can help with treatment costs.
He says doctors can’t read minds, so patients should communicate with their MD. But that’s easier said than done. He offers this advice: “Remember, you deserve your doctor’s time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Bring someone to your appointments when you have important decisions to make — maybe somebody who’s willing to step in who’s a little less shy than you are. Someone, at a minimum, who can take notes. But maybe someone who can act as your advocate.”
If you don’t have anyone to advocate on your behalf, Ubel says you should check to see if your hospital has a program where decision coaches sit with patients when they meet with their doctors.