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How to Be a Wise Health Care Consumer

Every doctor visit or medication treatment presents you with choices and responsibilities. Sometimes the right choice isn’t so clear.

Here are common problems you may run into as a health care consumer, with tips for wise responses:

  • The treatment your doctor prescribed isn’t working. Maybe it’s the wrong treatment for you. Or, maybe you’re taking the right treatment in the wrong way. In any case, your doctor needs to know. Ask him or her to clarify the treatment directions, or to suggest any available treatment alternatives.

  • The side effects seem worse than the cure. Are you worried about the impact of medication side effects on your health or well-being? Are you cutting back on your prescription because of side effects? Again, let your doctor know. Perhaps there’s a different pill you can take that’s just as effective without side effects. Or, maybe the dosage can be changed. Don’t stay mum about it; your health may suffer.

  • The hospital bill looks wrong. Do the dates of service look out of whack? Have you been charged twice for the same procedure, or for a service or supply item never received? By checking your hospital bill, you have an opportunity to fix any errors and perhaps trim your out-of-pocket costs. If you feel your insurance plan has erred in denying coverage, give the company a call. If a hospital charge seems out of line, ask your health plan to look into it.

  • You’re considering a “miracle” treatment. The Internet is full of products that sound too good to be true, and are. Even television ads aren’t always to be trusted. Be skeptical of “secret formulas,” “scientific breakthroughs,” “amazing results,” and money-back guarantees. Consult your doctor before buying.

  • You’re not satisfied with your doctor. If you don’t believe your doctor is knowledgeable enough about your condition, consider looking for another physician. You deserve a physician who explains things in a language you understand, listens and encourages questions, and supports you in self-managing your condition.

  • A recommended treatment makes you uneasy. Don’t rush into important health decisions. Usually there will be time to carefully examine your alternatives. Ask: Why do I need this surgery? Are there any alternatives to this treatment? What are the risks and benefits? Get a second opinion, if necessary.

  • You feel out of control in your care. Feeling out of control often has to do with a lack of knowledge. To learn more about your condition and how to self-manage it, contact a respected nonprofit group, such as the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association, to request information. Go to reputable online sites. Ask your doctor for brochures.

  • You know you should quit smoking, eat better, exercise … but it’s just not happening. Do you need more support in making lifestyle changes? Often, your doctor can serve as your number one resource. Many employers now offer worksite health-promotion programs. Family members and friends also can offer support, as well as people going through the same challenges you are. Look into online programs or support groups.

Keep in mind, the ability to ask for help in sticking with your doctor’s advice is one of your most important traits as a wise health care consumer.