Staying healthy is essential in keeping finances on track

Become a Smarter Patient

by Debra L. Karplus, MS, OTR/L

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You deserve a hearty pat on the back for all the dollar-stretching things that you do to keep cash in your wallet. You find bargains online, clothe your family from the best resale shops, heat and cool your home sensibly, and perform magic tricks with leftovers in your kitchen. You pride yourself on being a good consumer in all that you do. Good for you!

But staying healthy is essential to keeping your finances on track. Most families will admit that next to housing costs, medical costs, especially if you're subsidizing some or all of your own health insurance, may be your second biggest yearly expense. If your family is staying healthy, you're guaranteed to have more money. It's that simple. And remember that just because your insurance company may be footing some or the entire bill, being frivolous with your healthcare ultimately costs you money. Never lose sight of that fact.

When You Are Well

Choose a different doctor if you don't see eye-to-eye with your doctor. You and your health care provider need to be on the same page. Perhaps you prefer a vegetarian diet and your physician insists that's unhealthy. Or maybe your MD is a little too quick to prescribe an antidepressant for your occasional bout of the blues on cloudy days. Your physician may not agree with your exercise program even though it instinctively feels right to you.

Only switch doctors when you are in good health, so that you new doctor knows the real you, not the sick version of you. Just because your friend recommends their doctor, doesn't mean it's the right clinician for you. So, do your own research. Your clinic may have a website that lists doctors' specialties, such as menopause, hepatitis, or gerontology. Many clinics offer a short "getting to know you" consultation. That's a great way to determine if this doctor is best for you.

Schedule all recommended tests and screenings to establish a baseline. Cancer screenings recommended for your age and gender, such as a pap smear, prostate check, mammogram, and that colonoscopy that people often love to joke about should be taken seriously. Though sometimes pricey and at times unpleasant, never take a short cut by avoiding these tests. You are providing for your future by having these screenings, especially if some pathology is diagnosed on a test. Also, your doctor should regularly have their lab perform your lipid profile, complete blood count (CBC), and thyroid test.

Be sure to check your blood pressure at home when you're not racing to go to the doctor, scrambling to find parking, and nervous about sitting in a waiting room filled with people who are coughing non-stop. If you have a tendency toward borderline hypertension, a home blood pressure is a must. It can be purchased at any pharmacy, discount store, or online for less than fifty dollars.

When You Are Ill

Obtain accurate information about illnesses and pharmaceuticals only from reliable sources. Use only reputable websites to research symptoms, syndromes, and treatments including home remedies and alternative treatments before you go to the doctor, so you can be a smart consumer. Obtain accurate information about medications, drug interactions, and side effects. And, never underestimate the wisdom of your neighborhood pharmacist. These medical professionals know a myriad of useful facts about virtually any prescription and over-the-counter drug.

Utilize convenience care centers. Convenient care centers are popping up in communities, grocery stores and on college campuses around the country. They are affordable and handy for a routine strep throat, urinary tract infection, or allergic reaction and other everyday maladies. Nurse practitioners and physician's assistants often staff these facilities. They are quite competent at diagnosis and treatment and are licensed to be able to write prescriptions.

Avoid emergency room trips whenever possible. Any exam or procedure done in an emergency room will cost you and your insurance company much more than a regular doctor's office visit. If your ailment can wait until morning, then just be patient.

Create a list when you go to the doctor for an illness. Take the time to mention all symptoms or problems you're having so you don't forget, and your doctor can be more thorough. Log all dates and times, and any other relevant data.

Seek discounts when and where you fill your prescriptions. When your physician is writing a prescription, request generics. Then, fill the prescription at a local discount store, if possible; many of these places have plans for inexpensive or even free antibiotics. Pharmacies inside your clinic or hospital are often the most expensive option for medications. You pay for the convenience.

Staying healthy makes good sense for all the obvious reasons, but it also helps you save money. Be sure to clean up your diet, have an exercise program, improve sleep, and reduce stress as a first step to optimal health. Practice wellness in all that you do.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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