Saving at the Doctor's Office

by Shelly Burke

Health care is expensive, but you can safely save money on it.

Many times when someone is ill, it's easy to tell if a visit to the doctor is necessary or not. But other times, it's not clear. During routine visits, ask your doctor what signs and symptoms warrant an immediate appointment, and for which it's appropriate to "wait and see" for a day or two.

If you're not sure if the sick person needs an appointment or not, call the doctor's office and ask to speak to the nurse or doctor. Make the phone call near the sick person, so you can assess anything the nurse or doctor asks you to, during the call (if the doctor and nurses are busy, you might have to give the information to the receptionist) .

If symptoms suddenly worsen after office hours, call the office anyway; the answering service will call the on-call doctor, who will in turn call you. The on-call doctor can advise you to either wait until the next day to bring the child in, or bring the child to the Emergency Room right away.

Before you call, be prepared to report:

  • The signs and symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, coughing), and when they started.
  • If the sick person is able (or willing, in the case of an infant or toddler) to eat and drink.
  • If there is a rash, when it started, what it looks like, and where it is.
  • What the latest temperature of the sick person was, if it has been treated with a fever-reducing medication, and if the medication lowered the temperature (it usually takes about 30-90 minutes for a fever-reducing medication to take affect).
  • When and what medications were given and their effect.
  • Also make a list of questions you have for the doctor. Ask them during the return phone call or the appointment. Your questions will probably include:
    • What should I do to ease the symptoms?
    • What over-the-counter medications do you recommend?
    • For what signs and symptoms should I call you back, or make an appointment to be seen (for example, vomiting continues throughout the night, fever goes above 102, child unable to eat in 12 hours).

If your child is diagnosed with a highly contagious infection like bronchitis or strep throat, it is likely to spread to other family members. Ask the doctor if you can call in and describe the signs and symptoms if another family member becomes ill, rather than making another appointment. If you've built a trusting relationship with your doctor, he or she may call in a prescription without your having to schedule an additional appointment. However, if your doctor is reluctant to do this, respect his or her judgment; with the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections, many doctors want to confirm their diagnosis before prescribing a possibly unnecessary antibiotic.

If the nurse or doctor is not available to talk to you, leave a detailed message with the receptionist. Your call should be returned within several hours, at most. If the person is very ill, tell the receptionist and insist upon being called back as soon as possible.

If a visit is necessary, save money on treatment by:

  • Asking for samples of medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription. Representatives from drug companies leave a lot of samples, but the doctor may not think to give them to you unless you ask.
  • Asking if there is a less-expensive alternative to any medications prescribed. Doctors usually aren't thinking about the cost when they prescribe medications. Sometimes a new, high-cost medication is necessary, but if you share your concerns, the doctor might decide to try a less-expensive alternative first. A trusting relationship with your doctor is vital!
  • Asking if a generic form of the medication is okay; usually it is, but often "generic form okay" must be specified on the prescription form.

When prescription medications are prescribed, ask the following questions and be sure the answers are clear before you leave the office.

  • What is the purpose of this medication?
  • How often, and how much, should be given? Do the doses need to be evenly spaced every 24 hours, or can the doses be given just during waking hours? For example, if it is supposed to be given three times a day, is that every 8 hours, even if the person has to be awakened, or can it be given three times during waking hours?
  • Is the medication to be taken until the symptoms go away, or for a specific number of days, regardless of when the symptoms go away?
  • What are possible side effects? If the person experiences the side effects, should you stop the medication or continue?
  • Should the medication be taken with meals or on an empty stomach?
  • Are there any foods or beverages that should not be taken close to the time the medication is taken?
  • Will this medication affect the action of any other medications the person is taking?

These tips will help you avoid unnecessary visits to the doctor's office, take medications correctly, and safely save money when possible.

editor's note: your health is worth more than money. So never risk your health merely to save money.

Shelly Burke, RN, is the author of Home is Where the Mom Is. Home is Where the Mom Is is the most comprehensive resource for all moms, especially at-home moms. The above article is an excerpt from Home is Where the Mom Is. Shelly believes moms need to care for themselves, first, so they can better care for those around them. Shelly's next book, What Should I Say? is also available.

Take the Next Step

  • Ask the Doctor at your next appointment what symptoms warrant a visit to the office.
  • Be informed when contacting your doctor.
  • Write down any questions you may have for your doctor as you think of them. This will ensure that you get them answered while you have his attention.

Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.

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