As a culture of consumers, we are constantly bombarded by advertising on the airwaves, marketing in our social media, and commercials during our commutes. This has led to a lifestyle of perpetually shopping around to find the best deal, the best product, and the best experience. However, the one arena that this occurs much less in is healthcare.
Why not be a cultured consumer of healthcare? Healthcare consists of material goods like medications and medical devices such as walkers. Healthcare consists of deals, like those distributed by insurance providers. Healthcare is ultimately an experience: how was your visit to the doctor’s office? How clean was the hospital room during your stay? How did your specialist treat you? Not only is healthcare the sum of all of these things, it is also much more influential than what company provides your Internet or the latest generation of your Smartphone.
But what really happens is…
The reality of health care though, is there often is not an opportunity to shop around. When truly you need health care, you REALLY need health care; i.e. when you are having chest pains you are not going to spend a week researching which hospital has the lowest rates of nosocomial infections (hospital-acquired infections) and the best cardiology units. This is why it is so important to find all of your primary providers (like your general practitioner or your dentist) as well as emergency providers during times when you do not require their services. Some questions to ask are:
• Which general practitioners are not far from my home? The best GP may be an hour away, but can you make it that far when you are afflicted with a high temperature & upset stomach?
• What’s the best hospital in your area? How close is it? Do you know if the ambulance services take your insurance, and if so, how much will it cost you?
• What specialists like dermatologists or cardiologists could you potentially require? What is the wait time to get an appointment?
Many people are shocked to find that few general practitioners in their area are taking clients or there is a 4-6 month wait to get into see the medical professional they require. These are important facts to find out PRIOR to your emergency. When you truly are in need of help, you are more likely to make rash decisions out of desperation, which may result in dissatisfaction with services, as well as a higher bill.
Use Your Resources!
So what do you do to find the market price for your medical ministrations? First off, know your benefits. What exactly does your insurance cover? Does your insurance take care of specialized visits such as gynecological exams or health screenings? Which part of your insurance covers emergency visits & hospital admittance? Do you have supplementary benefits, which can extend your coverage?
After doing research on what your insurance covers and where you can use it, get an idea of average health costs of some services you may require. Not only can you call around, there are also some great resources on the Internet. Check out Health Care Blue Book, a free guide that estimates the cost of services in your area, similar to the guidebook for automotive purchases.
So what does a hospital stay look like if you do not have any insurance? Take for example Janet* (whose name has been changed to protect her identity), a 74-year-old female who traveled to the United States to visit her family for the holidays. Janet had travel insurance, which would reimburse her for one emergency visit and a select number of medications during her stay in the United States. Janet had no prior health issues to list on her travel insurance, so her premiums were low and she felt comfortable with her coverage.
Unfortunately, during her trip it was discovered that she had high blood pressure (which is often a long term undiagnosed issue; for more information see my previous Blood Pressure Blog). Her blood pressure became so high that she had to visit the emergency room to receive immediate treatment. During her four-hour stay, she had an electrocardiogram, a CT scan, blood drawn, and a urinalysis performed. She was also given antihypertensive medications and seen by one doctor, four nurses, one care aide, one phlebotomist, taken to see the CT tech by a porter, and admitted to the hospital by a hospital administrator. The antihypertensive prescribed by the doctor and administered to her by a nurse were effective, and she was discharged home with her blood pressure at a healthy level and a prescription for anti-hypertensives.
The total of her four-hour hospital stay charged to her credit card was $700. Many people ask why is this so much? Janet was seen by more than ten people (all with varying salaries), not to mention those who cleaned Janet’s room & filed her paperwork after she was discharged. Besides the physical bodies executing her care, Janet had several tests performed which required numerous supplies, machines, and software. It takes a community to effectively staff a hospital, all with different knowledge and skills. Be prepared for this cost to increase as you seek out more specialized services and practitioners.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of your medical issues (or lack of issues), it is important to be prepared, like Janet. Despite not having prior medical problems she still took out medical insurance, which ended up saving her a significant amount of money after she was reimbursed by her travel insurance company. She knew where the hospital was and a nearby pharmacy if needed. However, back in Janet’s hometown, Janet did not have a general practitioner because hers had recently retired. She was not looking for a GP nor was she aware of a local walk-in clinic that she could visit, now that she no longer had a GP.
We need to start treating our bodies like our cars. We take out emergency service insurance in case we get stranded, we take our cars in for periodic tune-ups, and when a funny noise starts we go to an autoshop, which we have researched and therefore trust. I have previously discussed the importance of preventative care, but the key to really taking care of your health is BEING PREPARED. So start to create your “emergency car kit” and get acquainted with the medical services in your area – your body will thank you.