Medical news about treatment breakthroughs, health trends and the latest startling statistics is a mouse-click away for most of us, but being a wise health care consumer means more than keeping up with health research.
February is the American Institute for Preventive Medicine's (AIPM) Wise Health Care Consumer Month, and to kick things off, we're going to suggest some ways you can take better control of your health future and save some money to boot.
It Pays to be Choosy
Selecting the right doctor can be painstaking, and physician-patient relationships are not one-size-fits-all in most cases. Ask friends and family, and do some Internet research. Perhaps most importantly, make sure the doctor you choose participates with your health insurance plan.
Preparation is Paramount
Once you've settled on a physician, compile a list of questions and concerns to take to your doctor's office. This will maximize the quality of the limited amount of time you spend with your doctor, and help you better understand what brought you there in the first place. Who knows? You may learn something.
Did you know that approximately 25 percent of all doctor visits could be treated with self-care, according to AIPM? Invest in a credible self-care guide or find an information packed, reliable web site, which can help you choose when to seek medical treatment and when to treat at home.
It's also important to understand why you are taking certain medications and what the side effects of those prescriptions can be. We've all heard the scary pharmaceutical ads on television ("Side effects may include cardiac arrest, seizures and/or sudden death," etc.), but the truth is that most medications can cause some sort of adverse side effects and interactions with other medications or supplements may render certain prescriptions harmful or ineffective. Letting your doctor know exactly what you are taking and the dosage is vital, especially if you see more than one physician or specialist. Be sure to finish all medications, even if you are feeling better.
Pay Attention; There Will Be a Test
You should do research concerning the medical tests you may be asked to have. Some are time-sensitive, some are age-related, and others are best taken on an empty stomach. Most routine colonoscopies, for example, are not routinely administered until age 50, unless there is a history of colorectal cancer in your family. Knowledge is power, and knowing when to be tested can save your life as well as your pocketbook. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates 20 percent to 60 percent of medical tests performed may not be necessary, so always be sure to ask your doctor why the tests he is ordering are relevant or needed. Using home medical tests when possible, such as blood-glucose monitors for diabetics, also saves money. Many screenings -- such as those for blood-glucose levels, blood-cholesterol levels and blood pressure -- are free or offered for minimal fees at health fairs and hospitals.
Don't Neglect Mental Health
It's easy to devote our healthcare energies to keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check by exercising and eating well, but stress can also play a big role in blood pressure. And depression has been linked to diabetes. In other words, don't neglect your mental health status. Not only does it affect your physical health, states of emotional upset can disrupt or even derail your daily living routines if not kept in check.
Make First-Aid Foremost
A well-stocked first-aid kit and a little bit of first-aid know-how can mean the difference between a $1,000 emergency room visit and free, in-home treatment. It's also important to keep disinfectants, cotton swabs and band-aids handy as well as pain relievers such as Tylenol®, Advil® and aspirin.
Every year as many as 55 percent of emergency room visits are not necessary. But, some true medical emergency signs include: sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure; breathing difficulties; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or comprehending; profuse bleeding that can't be stopped; severe vomiting; coughing up or vomiting blood; thoughts of suicide or homicide; and sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body.
Remember -- it's not just the foods you eat, the supplements you take and the calories you burn while exercising that keep your health (and your medical expenses) in check. It's also learning to differentiate between medically necessary tests and ER visits, and chosing the best physician for you.
So take control of your health -- and finances -- today by becoming a wiser health care consumer.