Continuing with yesterday’s commentary. Something that I feel is important to cover involves educating the general population on proper utilization of healthcare resources. Yes, we have a problem with uninsured in this country, but in many areas there are access problems, especially with lawsuits driving docs out of business or into less “sue-happy” locations. This creates a void in healthcare availability and strains the remaining resources. Not only that, but a large portion of expense comes from Emergency Room visits by people who don’t have primary care physicians or don’t have insurance. So our ERs are seeing simple things like colds and sinus infections, incurring great costs that often go unpaid and leading hospitals to pass the costs on to those who are insured. This is a big problem and part of the solution involves changing our way of thinking. So here we go:
It’s not always abnormal to be sick. Everyone has been sick. It comes with being human. Whether you’re talking about bronchitis, sinusitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis and in many cases otitis (ear infection), these are all things that we all obtain on multiple occasions throughout our lives. So, it’s not necessarily abnormal to be sick. In fact, I would say that it’s more abnormal to never be sick. Rarely, and I do mean rarely, do these things require the care of a physician. The vast majority will resolve on their own via our effective immune systems regardless of what one does to treat them. But that’s not the going opinion in the public. We seemed to have developed the mentality that sickness must not be allowed and must be treated immediately. It doesn’t matter that there is nothing the physician can do for these that can’t be done over the counter. What matters is that we don’t like to be sick and when we get sick we feel that sickness deserves attention. Hence, we go to the doctor. This isn’t necessary, and it’s extremely costly. I think society would do themselves a favor by learning that it’s best to leave the doctor’s office for people who aren’t just sick, but are REALLY sick. In the long run, it would benefit us all.
Pain is not unacceptable. This follows with the first point. We have all experienced pain. It’s also part of being human. Sometimes it’s an achy wrist, or a sore ankle, or a sore toe. Sometimes our hands hurt, our shoulders ache. Sometimes we get headaches. Sometimes we get back aches. This is all, arguably, part of a normal healthy human body. Pain is a defense mechanism, and when something like tendonitis or synovitis pops up, it’s the body’s way of telling us to take it easy on that wrist or that ankle until it heals. And it will heal. So why do we not tolerate pain? Again, there seems to be a mindset that any pain is unacceptable and must be eliminated right away. We no longer tolerate the minor aches that come with normal human activity. Again, this leads to unnecessary, expensive visits so the physician can tell us what our bodies are already trying to tell us…take it easy until it heals. But sometimes, patients are also told to take over the counter medications, which brings me to the next point.
Treat yourself first. We all know what to buy when we have a cold, or a headache, or an achy wrist. And if we don’t know, the local pharmacist will be glad to point us to the right aisle. Generally, an over the counter medicine will do the trick for that achy toe, or the nagging hemorrhoid, or the sore throat, or the occasional cough, and it will save a lot of money. Besides, do we really need a physician to tell us to take Advil or Nyquil?
An emergency is anything that poses an immediate threat to life, limb or eyesight. Unless directed by a physician or nurse, there is no other reason to go to the emergency room.
So we all need to learn how to properly utilize our health resources if we’re going to overcome the many problems that we face in today’s healthcare. The above suggestions may seem small, but if applied by millions the cost savings becomes substantial. On the flip side, until we all practice the proper behaviors, discussion of national health care or socialized medicine should be off the table. Right now, the only thing discouraged healthcare abuse is out of pocket cost for the patient. If we open the gates and provide free care for all…well, it would be fiscal suicide for the government. So let’s all learn the lessons. Tolerate that cold, it will go away within a few weeks. Tolerate that achy wrist, it will heal soon. Be your own doctor. Leave the ER for true emergencies. Maybe, if we cooperate, it will ease the burden on us all.