Be a Wise Healthcare Consumer and Save

by Rebecca McCoy


Healthcare costs are rising. Unfortunately, it's not something you can usually cut from your budget. But how many times have you gone to see your healthcare provider about an ailment only to learn it's nothing? Or worse, how many times have you gone to see your healthcare provider about an unresolved issue and gotten nowhere? Either way, you're spending money, out of pocket or in co-pays. One thing you can do to help reduce these costs is to educate yourself about personal health issues. By becoming a wise healthcare consumer, you can reduce unnecessary health care visits, improve communication with your health care provider, and make fully informed decisions about treatment. This all leads to less spending on personal healthcare and the beneficial side effect of better care for you and your family.

Since healthcare isn't free, how about getting reliable health information for free? You're in luck. You don't have to spend money on medical school tuition to educate yourself. There are a variety of health-related resources you can use and they're all available to the public at no cost.

  1. Hospital or health center libraries. If there is a local community hospital or health center that you use, check to see if it has a medical library. Medical libraries are usually open to patients and their family members. Many of these libraries have collections of books as well as pamphlets or handouts on a variety of health-related topics. Depending on the library, you may be able to check out material. If you are interested in reading clinical and technical information, this is also one of the best places to go. Specially trained medical librarians can also be an excellent resource for finding medical information.

  2. Public libraries. You don't have to go to a special medical library to find good health information. Most public libraries have started consumer health sections because more and more people want the information. The section may include books, videotapes, audiotapes, and magazines. Ask at your local library about a consumer health section. Public libraries may also have two other useful resources. First, libraries sometimes hold talks or lectures for the community. Check to see if any of the scheduled talks are health-related. If not, talk to your local librarian. If enough people express interest in a certain topic, a speaker can be arranged. Second, public libraries have computers with Web access. There is an overabundance of health information on the Web. Much of it is out-of-date and incorrect, which can be dangerous to your health. The key is to make sure the information you read and use is reliable.

  3. Reliable websites. To make sure that you're getting the best health information you can get on the Web, ask yourself some questions when looking at sites.

    Who owns and runs the site? Is it a commercial organization trying to sell you something or is it a reliable professional organization or health system? (You'll note that government website addresses end in .gov and nonprofits end in .org). When was the website last updated? Is the information current or over five years old? Who is the audience? Is it meant for the average person or for health care professionals? Is the information accurate? Is it based on facts or opinion? Are references listed?

    Good places to start looking for health information on the Web are government sources. You can search the following sites and the first two will display a collection of information from many sources.

    - MedlinePlus (www.medlineplus.gov)
    - Healthfinder (www.healthfinder.gov)
    - Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov)

    Another way to find reliable health information on the Web is to go directly to voluntary organization websites. There is an association for just about every health issue you can imagine. Below are just a few examples. You can certainly find others by using a good search engine or even the phone book. Many organizations have local offices where you may be able to get more information and tap into local resources and support groups.

    - American Heart Association (www.americanheart.org)
    - American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org)
    - American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org)
    - National Mental Health Association (www.nmha.org)

    While you're on the Web, be on the look out for ways to get more information when you are not on the Web. For example, you may see that many organizations have toll-free numbers you can call for more information or for counseling. You can sometimes call and order single copies of health-related books or pamphlets for free.

Once you get going, you'll see how much information is out there. Just make sure it is safe and accurate. When it comes to your and your family's health, you don't have to settle. Obviously, saving money is not more important than your health. But, you can become active in your own healthcare, educate yourself, and avoid those unnecessary costs.


Rebecca McCoy has a master's degree in public health. She lives and writes in Baltimore, MD.

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