Modern medicine can do miraculous things. But the cost of those miracles can be enough to send your blood pressure through the roof. Doctors understandably tend to be cautious when diagnosing health issues. Sometimes, asking questions and getting a second opinion could save your thousands of dollars.
My wife saw a family medicine doctor on a Friday afternoon for some pain she was experiencing. The doctor had an idea what was causing the pain, and stated the treatment was likely antibiotics, but ordered blood work to be sure. About an hour after returning home, the doctor called very concerned about the results. Something she saw in the blood work in combination with the physical exam made her want a CT scan done. Unfortunately, because it was late on a Friday afternoon she was unable to schedule the scan as an outpatient procedure. She didn’t want my wife to wait until Monday to have the scan, so she directed her to go to the ER for the scan.
We all know anything done in the ER is exponentially more expensive than if the same thing was done as an outpatient procedure. We did go to the ER and were fully prepared to have the scan done if it was the best thing to do for my wife’s health. After talking to the doctor, having another physical exam, and voicing her concern over whether the CT was really needed or not, he agreed to a different course of action. He prescribed two antibiotics and gave us a timeline to return if her symptoms didn’t improve.
Twenty four hours later, after several doses of the medication, my wife was on the road to recovery. No CT scan costing thousands of dollars needed.
The following are a few things I keep in mind every time I go to the doctor, especially if they’re ordering expensive tests.
Question The Course of Action
Doctors sometimes take the shotgun approach to diagnosing an illness. They order a spectrum of tests hoping one of them will give them the answer. Calmly ask the doctor to explain the reasoning behind each test. Then ask if there’s some order in which they could be done instead of them all simultaneously. Mention you’re trying to avoid paying for unnecessary tests. A reminder that tests cost patients money may prompt them reevaluate their course of action.
Ask for Clarity
Doctors are human, which means they sometimes are not as clear as you might want them to be. For example, the doctor agreed to prescribe the antibiotics if we agreed to come back for the CT scan if my wife’s symptoms hadn’t improved 24 hours later. After talking some more, he reminded us that he wanted us to return if her condition worsened in the next 24 hours.
Do you see the grey area in his statements? The first time he said we should come back if her condition hadn’t improved. The second time his phrasing was if her conditioned had worsened. I mentioned this, and asked this, “Ok, so let’s say 24 hours from now she’s exactly the same. Not better, but not worse. Do we come in? I need to ask his because if I don’t I guarantee this time tomorrow we’ll disagree about what you wanted us to do.”
His next statement confused things even more. He then went on to explain how antibiotics sometimes take 48 hours to really start working. So he would actually give the medicine 36-48 hours to start working, and at that point it would be Sunday night and we might as well wait until Monday to schedule the CT scan as an outpatient procedure.
I then stated what I thought he meant. The antibiotics may take 48 hours to really take effect. If her conditioned hasn’t improved by Sunday night (48 hours later), call Monday morning and schedule the CT scan. But if her condition deteriorates significantly, we could come in for additional help.
“Yes,” was his reply.
Get A Second Opinion
Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Medical professionals don’t always agree on the best course of action. Not only could they have differing opinions, but one may think of something their peer did not.
When in Doubt, Do What The Doctor Says
While it’s good to ask for clarity, get a second opinion, and question the doctor’s course of action, you are talking about the health of you or a loved one. When in doubt, error on the side of caution and do the tests. There are ways to deal with medical bills later too.
The health care system in the US is badly broken. A needed scan shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars. That scan shouldn’t have a different cost based on what door you walked through. You shouldn’t have to choose a level of medical care based on how big of a bill you want to deal with. I’ve dealt with all of these situations and I’m one of the lucky ones that has what would be considered excellent medical insurance through my employer. The best we can do is work with medical professionals to come up with the best course of action possible.
How about you, EOD Nation, are you actively engaged when dealing with a medical issue?