Getting the Most Bang for Your Healthcare Buck

In healthcare today, the misguided goal is to make more and more money. Hospitals are all about efficiency and minimizing downtime of facilities.  Clinic appointments are routinely set at 15-minute intervals or less.  The healthcare machine pressures doctors into rushing from patient to patient to meet certain metrics set up by administrators.

Efficiency

Getting the most bang for your healthcare buck

Efficiency Expert

It is a noble effort to maximize our healthcare facilities for efficiency. I’m all for reducing waste.  The problem comes when the patients’ needs are sacrificed in the name of efficiency. With doctors rushing more and more to cover overhead, fulfill the myriad of hospital policies and keep up with requirements of the various governmental agencies, patients’ needs can be forgotten in the process.

Who needs this?

You may be a young parent. You may have been pretty healthy all your life and didn’t see the doctor much. Now you have this newborn or toddler who needs well child visits, and vaccines every so many months to years.  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 10 well-child visits in the first two years of life. You will be spending more time at the doctor. 

Healthcare isn’t cheap. One study showed that out-of-pocket expenses averaged almost $1300 for the first year of life.  Another study showed in 2014, per capita spending was $2660 per child ages 0-18. The average number of doctors visits was 3.2 visits per child. 

With high deductible plans becoming more and more common, you are more likely to have to shoulder all of your healthcare costs.  

Also, as you get older, you don’t recover as quickly from an injury.  You are more prone to chronic illness like hypertension, diabetes and other organ dysfunction. It happens to the best of us.

So what can you do as a patient to assure that you are getting the most for your healthcare dollars? Also, What can you do as a parent to relay to the pediatrician the health concerns of your child? Having been a doctor for the last 15 years, I want to help you get the most our of your healthcare dollars.

Think like a doctor

Getting the most bang for your healthcare buck

Don’t go to this doctor if his clinic is in here!

I’m going to take you on a tour backstage of the mystery of medicine. It’s not really a mystery but more a way of thinking.  Doctors are trained to think in a systematic process and then draw conclusions from the data they extract from the process.  When you arrive at your doctor’s office, we take information about your current illness and physical state. Then we mentally put that into the various disease profiles that could cause those symptoms.

The process by which a physician approaches you from interview to exam, to diagnosis, and treatment can be summed up in the acronym: 

S. O. A. P. 

 

 

S (Subjective)

This is what you are feeling.  When you come in and say you have a sore throat and a headache, we think of the diseases and the physical exam characteristics of those diseases.  As the patient, you think about what you will tell the doctor before you even get to the clinic or hospital. Make a mental list of the symptoms you have. Think about pains, changes from the normal, skin changes, attitude changes, energy levels, and changes in your color.  Think about the things that are different in your body and mind.  Make sure the doctor knows about them.  If you can offer these symptoms quickly and succinctly, that gives you more time for the later part of the processes.

O (Objective)

This is the part of the appointment where the physician gathers objective data. Vital signs, physical exams such as heart sounds, breath sounds, reflexes, skin exam, and palpitations of major organs occur here.  Labs may be proposed as well as radiological exams.  As a patient, you don’t really have a lot of control over this part.  It is difficult to predict what the doctor may recommend ahead of time, and it is difficult to hasten this.  If you believe that you may need labs or radiological exams, you could ask where the doctor refers her patients and call these facilities to see the process they use to conduct these tests.  Knowing where the facilities are, if they are not on the site of the doctor’s clinic, will save you time and trouble as you are trying to get the proper treatment for your illness.

A (Assessment)

This is the time when your doctor will tell you what she thinks is going on with you.  If you have an illness she will often talk about a differential diagnosis. This is the list of possible problems.

If this is a regular checkup or a physical, your doctor will go over any abnormalities in the exam or any improvements that have occurred since the last visit.

P (Plan)

Getting the most bang for your healthcare buck

Great Music! Poor Medical Care.

This is why you came to the clinic in the first place. Your doctor communicates the plan to get you or your child back to wellness during this part of the appointment.  This could involve getting more lab work or radiological studies to monitor a problem. You might be referred to a specialist if the problem is too advanced or outside the scope of practice of the current doctor you are seeing.  Your doctor calls in prescriptions and recommends procedures at this time. You could be referred to a different specialist. 

 

What should you do as the patient?

Now that you know how your doctor is thinking, you can make things easier on him.  The more efficiently and succinctly you present your problems and concerns, and the more you help your doctor obtain the information he needs. You will also have more time left to go over the assessment and plan.

Here is a list of what you should do:

  1. Think about all the symptoms you have. Write them down if you have to so you don’t forget to name all of them.  If this is a well-exam/physical, write down any concerns you have about your health.  This could include, weight gain, loss of appetite, change in bowel habits, or decreased exercise tolerance.  Think about the less than optimal aspects of your health that you put off. If you are at the doctor anyway, you might as well tell her about them.
  2. Bring a list of any new health-related changes that have happened since you last saw the doctor.  These could be pertinent to why you are there and contribute to the diagnosis and plan of treatment.
  3. Call ahead and ask the office staff how they check you in and get you through the system.  Do they have an electronic medical record where you need to fill out or answer a lot of questions ahead of time?  This could affect how early you need to arrive for your appointment.
  4. Is there anything you need to bring? Some doctor’s offices send out a health screening form that they expect you to fill out before you get to the office. Does your doctor want labs drawn before you come, so the results can be reviewed? Make sure you did your homework.
  5. Is your insurance compatible? Every health insurance company has the capability to look up your doctor and see if she is in-network.  This can avoid some major heartburn over an out of network charge on the day of the appointment.
  6. Understand your health coverage. Health insurance is a whole other topic for not only a blog article but an encyclopedia. At the very least, know your deductible. Know what percentage is covered by your insurance company during any medical treatment.  Know if well visits or screening exams are covered. Also, check if your insurance company has a preferred provider network where you get discounted care.
  7. If being on schedule is important to you, check with your doctor’s office staff about his punctuality.  If they are hesitant to answer this questions, then chances are he bites off more than he can chew, and gets behind on his patient appointment pretty quickly.  A good rule of thumb if you don’t want the chance of your doctor being late because another patient didn’t follow the High Income Parent guide to getting the most bang for you health care buck, is to book the first appointment of the day.  Most docs are pretty good about being on time for that one.  The earlier in the day, the better chance of an on time appointment.
  8. If you have any friends who work in the healthcare field, ask for referrals or recommendations to
    Getting the most bang for your healthcare buck

    drink too many of these and you will likely be going more regularly to the doctor

    physicians they respect.  Don’t act pushy or have an entitled mentality, but if you ask a nurse or technician or another doctor who they recommend, they can sometimes give that doctor a heads up that you may be coming. It always helps to have a friend on the inside.

  9. Do what the doctor says!  I always find it funny that people take time out of their day, drive to the clinic, pay a lot of money to talk to someone who went to school for a bazillion years to learn about the human body and treat it and then do none of what she says.  It’s kinda like driving to the gym and walking around for a bit and then leaving to the burger joint and wondering why you don’t have a six-pack and a better bench press max.

Inside Scoop

Well, I hope this helps.  This is what I tell my family and friends when they ask my advice about getting the most bang for their healthcare buck.

What do you think? Do you have any other tricks up your sleeves? Have you ever used any of these tactics to get a better value for your time and money while seeking medical care? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Getting the most bang for your healthcare buck

Tom
Tom is a doctor, husband and father of five with a passion for parenting and finance. When he isn't skateboarding, riding BMX, or jumping on the trampoline with his kids, he is reading and writing about personal finance. He helps high income parents educate and mentor their kids to become financially, emotionally, and intellectually self sufficient.

6 Responses to “Getting the Most Bang for Your Healthcare Buck

  • My own opinion is that most people would be better off going to a nutritionist than a doctor. Doctors, from what I understand, are trained to fix what went wrong. Mostly, they aren’t paid to fix lifestyle decisions. Already at my age, 40, I have seen on facebook one girl from high school die from cancer (morbidly obese), another friend of mine have multiple surgeries to have kidney stones removed (also obese). We had a lady at work die, while working for us (at home, to be precise) who smoked and had lap band surgery. She was in her late 40’s. She left three kids behind. These are all preventable, unfortunately.

    • Excellent point. We do a terrible job of preventative medicine in the US. Most people want a quick fix and if you tell them to exercise and change their diet to unprocessed foods, they are going to look to someone else for a quick fix.

  • Thanks for sharing this Tom. I can see this list being pretty useful to many and I will definitely use some tips when I need to seek out care.

    On top of my list is taking care of yourself to prevent having to go to the Dr. in the first place. 🙂 As FinancePatriot pointed out nutrition plays a huge part in it all. We need to continue beating the drum – eat right, exercise, reduce stress, laugh, etc., all those things play such an important part in prevention.

    • Thanks Amy. I definitely agree. It is so disheartening to see preventable disease walk through or be wheeled through the hospital door each day. We need a culture shift.

  • Evert time I go to the doctor, I come prepared with an agenda (it’s the business person in me). It includes what I want to talk about, questions I have, updates of any kind, etc.

    I start it a week or so in advance of the appointment so I have time to think and consider — and not forget anything.

    It works extremely well.

    • That’s awesome! I wish all of my patients would come prepared like that. It makes the experience between both the doctor and the patient much more enjoyable and productive.

Comment Below

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow on Feedly