Healthcare According To Ernie – Did you know you can talk to your doctor? I know, right!?

Doctor visit

It’s true, most doctors in this country can converse with you about what kind of care you need and how you would like to get that care.  It may seem strange that I would open with this message but all to often I hear from people that they just go to the doctor and their doctor prescribes a treatment or course of action and they just follow blindly.  In some cases it costs a lot of money and now that more and more Americans are enrolled in high deductible health plans (HDHPs) treatments have a more direct impact on their wallets.

So what can we do about this?

Talk.  Yes talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner at the BEGINNING of your next visit to their office or even in the emergency room.  I’d like to share two stories with you from my recent personal experience…

The story of the dreaded deep-vein thrombosis scare

I fly a lot for work – in fact I’m in a plane practically every week and most times more than one trip a week.  As a result of that, and also because I didn’t listen to my Mom who told me this would happen and how to prevent it, I developed a blood clot in my leg.  At the time I had just changed positions and had made a mistake in selecting health insurance to cover me while I was between jobs.  Now that’s an entirely different story which I’m sure I’ll get to, but not now.  Regardless, I had signed up for what I thought was a short term (3 month) health plan but what I got was a hospitalization only plan.  When I went to the doctors office to get my leg checked out the receptionist informed me – in a not so polite manner I might add – of my mistake and that I in fact “…had no insurance…”  At that point she just sat there staring at me with that, “What do you want to do now?” look on her face.

I told her I guess I was going to have to pay cash for this visit and prepared myself for the worst.  Long story short, when I went into the exam room and the nurse practitioner came in I hit her immediately with my situation, both medical and financial.  I told her of my mistake in selecting coverage and that if there was anything that we could do differently that would help minimize the cost of my trip I would appreciate it BUT that I didn’t want to skimp on care either.  She thanked me for letting her know and in fact she recommended a radiologist that gave deep discounts for cash payments and she did ALL the follow-up with me over the phone so I didn’t have to pay for another office visit unless there was a complication that required me to come in.

In the end, the entire ordeal cost me less than $600 vs almost $2,000 had I just gone along silently with whatever the default course of action was.  And no, I did not have DVT, but I did have a small shallow clot that I was able to dissolve by just taking 325mg of aspirin daily for two weeks, a treatment recommendation that was delivered over the phone, for free.

To inject or not to inject, that is the question

When I was in the hospital for my flank pain incident recently, while I was laying on the bed in the emergency room with  my eyes closed, an ER doctor came up and injected me with pain killer and anti-nausea medicine.  I had self-described my pain level as a 5 or 6 and I don’t know what the protocol parameters are for pain medication but I received the injection without first being asked if I wanted it.  The pair of injections cost me $248.67 and turns out they didn’t really do anything.  Now had I been asked I might have said no to these injections but I wasn’t.  If I had been paying attention or if I had told the ER staff that I was paying out of pocket and would like to review any procedures that they are about to perform and the associated costs of those procedures before receiving them I might have been able to avoid that expense – perhaps not, but since I didn’t follow my own advice of talking at the beginning of the visit about my financial needs as well as my health needs I learned a valuable lesson.

So remember, your doctor can address both your health and your financial needs, and if they can’t, if they look at you with that, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” look on their face when you talk to them about the cost of their care, perhaps its time to find a doctor that can.  If you’re in the Phoenix metro area I can recommend several good options.