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  1. Before going to the doctor, write down everything you want to discuss during your appointment. Make note of any changes in your health since your last visit and jot down any questions. If your visit is for a specific health problem, document any facts that might help your doctor evaluate the condition. Pay attention to details - they can help your doctor make a more accurate diagnosis. (See the Learn More section for a helpful checklist.)
  2. Write down what your doctor tells you. As you go through your notes with your doctor, write down what he or she tells you. That way, you’ll be able to refer to the information later and make sure you don’t forget anything important.
  3. Ask your doctor to explain all your treatment options. Often, there are a variety of treatment options available. Ask your doctor to explain the benefits and risks of each. The same holds true when your doctor prescribes medication - there may be a variety of drugs to treat your condition, so ask about effectiveness, cost, side effects and potential interaction with other medications or supplements.
  4. If you don’t understand something your doctor is saying, ask for clarification.Sometimes doctors use technical medical terms that are hard to understand. If you’re not following everything your doctor is saying, ask him or her to put it in laymen’s terms. Find out if your doctor has a brochure that explains your health condition in simple terms. He or she may also be able to recommend a web site or book with more information for patients.
  5. Don’t be afraid to "bother" your doctor. Your health is important, and your doctor can’t treat you appropriately without all the facts. Before the doctor leaves the room, make sure you’ve had a chance to cover everything in your notes. You may have waited days or weeks for an appointment, so make good use of the limited time you have with your doctor.
  6. If you’re dealing with a serious health problem, take a trusted family member or friend with you to your appointments. Finding out you have a serious illness can be overwhelming. So much is at stake and there is a great deal of information to weigh regarding your treatment options. For that reason, you may wish to bring along a trusted, knowledgeable family member or friend to doctors’ appointments who can serve as a "second set of ears" and provide emotional support. (Due to the HIPAA privacy rule, you may need to sign an authorization allowing someone else access to your protected health information, even if it’s just hearing the doctor’s oral comments.)

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Health Plan Terms

Medical Terms Dictionary

Health Conditions

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How to Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Visit

Be prepared to talk about…

  • Any medical tests or procedures you’ve had since your last visit. (Helps you avoid the inconvenience, discomfort, expense and potential risk of duplicate tests.)
  • Medications (prescription and over-the-counter), vitamins and supplements you’re taking.
  • When symptoms began, how often you experience them, when you experience them (time of day/night), what you are doing just before you experience them.
  • A full description of the symptom. For example, is it a stabbing pain, a throbbing pain, tingling, numbness, etc. Rate the intensity of pain on a scale of 1-10.
  • Anything that makes your symptoms better or worse. Any hunches you have about the cause of your symptoms.
  • Lifestyle changes you’ve made or are considering.
  • Relevant medical history on yourself and your family.

Don't Hold Back

Be honest and complete in describing your symptoms and lifestyle, and in answering your doctor’s questions. Withholding information makes it harder for your doctor to treat your effectively, and could even put you at greater risk. Remember, health care providers are required by law to treat your personal health information as confidential

If your doctor orders a test

  • Ask what the test is called, what information it will provide, and whether there are alternatives.
  • Ask about any risks associated with the test.
  • Ask how much the test will cost in total, including charges from a lab, hospital, radiologist, pathologist, etc.
  • Consider whether you’ve had that same test done recently, perhaps ordered by a different doctor. If so, have a copy of the results sent to your current doctor. If unsure, take the time to find out.
  • Ask if the test is absolutely essential and how reliable it is in confirming your diagnosis. In some cases, tests may be ordered as a safeguard against malpractice suits, not because they are entirely medically necessary.
  • Find out if you need the test right away or whether you can “wait and watch” to see if your symptoms improve or worsen.
  • Ask about the most cost-effective facility to receive the test. Some facilities, for example, specialize in MRIs and charge much less for these tests than most doctor’s clinics or hospitals.

If your doctor prescribes medication, ask…

  • Are there other ways I can manage my condition without taking drugs? For example, can I try to lower my cholesterol by making lifestyle changes before taking more drastic measures?
  • What’s the name of my medication and how will it help me?
  • What dosage(s) of medication do I need to take, and at what times?
  • Is there a generic form – or lower-priced brand – of this medication available? Would it be right for me?
  • What side effects might I have? What can I do about them?
  • Are there any specific risks I should worry about? How can I prevent them? How can I recognize them?
  • Do you have samples of the medicine that I can try? I’d like to rule out allergic reactions or other negative side effects before filling a full prescription
  • Should I take this medication with food?
  • Do I need to avoid any other medications, foods, supplements (vitamins, herbals) or activities while taking this medication?
  • How long it will take for me to feel better?
  • What type of improvement should I expect?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • If my medication needs to be stopped for any reason, how should I do it? (Never stop taking your medication without first talking to your doctor.)
  • How often will I need to come in for medication management? How long will my appointments take?
  • How can I reach you in an emergency?

More Resources

Frequently Asked Questions about health insurance

Preparing for your doctor visit

Prices at Wisconsin hospitals

Health care quality ratings

Health risk assessment

Why are health care costs rising?

In simplest terms, spending on health care is the product of two factors: price and utilization.

  • Prices charged by hospitals, physicians, drug companies and other health care providers have risen dramatically – more than the cost of goods and services in general (inflation).
  • Utilization of health care services is up. Despite rising prices, demand for services remains high. More of us are using health care services more often, for more conditions – including some that were not even treated in the past.

Why are medical prices going up, and why are we using more care? Here’s where things get complicated. Experts differ in their conclusions about what – or who – is most to blame, but there’s widespread agreement that certain cost drivers are at work.

Key Cost Drivers

Americans’ lifestyle choices are partly to blame. Unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, smoking, not getting enough sleep, alcohol abuse all put us at higher risk for a host of costly illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and more. Obesity rates in adults and children, while showing signs recently of leveling off, still remain high and suggest health care costs will continue their upward climb. In 2011-2012 approximately 17% or 12.7 million children and teens in the U.S. were obese. Extra pounds put children at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and other expensive health problems for their lifetime. (Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, February 26, 2014, Vol. 311, No. 8.)

Advances in medical technology have led to amazing breakthrough treatments. The research and development costs behind these new technologies must be recovered somewhere – typically through the general cost of medical goods and services. And we’re all paying the high price. Still, Americans want the latest treatment at their disposal, whether it means an expensive bone marrow transplant that may be yet unproven as treatment, or a heart bypass operation at age 85. Our society’s devotion to technological discoveries ensures that costs will continue to rise. No matter what employers do to manage costs, the impact of technology on spending will continue.

Prescription drug costs are rising even faster than medical care overall. Some of the most exciting – and most expensive – developments in medical care involve prescription drugs, specifically specialty drugs. Specialty drugs now account for approximately 20-25 percent of pharmacy spending and the cost of these drugs is expected to quadruple between 2012 and 2020.

Many claim that direct-to-consumer drug ads are prompting patients to request the newest (most expensive) brand-name drug, even when a generic or over-the-counter drug may work just as well. Another concern is that drug ads rarely mention the lifestyle changes or other, non-drug solutions, which are often just as important as drug therapy in improving outcomes. For example, a patient may resist when his physician insists on discussing a low-fat diet, stress management, or allergen avoidance rather than writing a prescription.

Whatever the reason, employees’ usage of prescription drugs, and the cost of those drugs, has significantly increased recent years and is expected to continue rising.

Did you know?

The U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries that allow direct-to-consumer drug advertising that includes product claims.

Source:Abel GA, Penson RT, Joffe S, et al. Direct-to-consumer advertising in oncology. Oncologist. 2006;11(2):217–226

An aging population needs more care. In 2010, there were 40.3 million people aged 65 and older, 12 times the number in 1900. By the year 2030, the older population will number approximately 73 million.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, report issue June 2014.

What’s the significance of these statistics? Often, as people age, health problems increase. There are more people getting treatment for the types of one-time problems that accompany middle age, such as gallbladder surgery. Just as important, more people now need ongoing care for the types of chronic conditions that may develop with age, such as back problems or adult-onset diabetes. Often, that treatment includes expensive prescription drugs.

The costs associated with older people will not diminish anytime soon. Today’s youngest Baby Boomers will still be in the workforce 15 years from now. As a demographic group, their health costs will balloon as they age and use medicine to live long, active lives. Advances in health care are part of the reason we’re living longer, which in turn is driving our national health care spending even higher.

Did you know?

Approximately one-third of health care treatments, costing $750 billion annually, are unnecessary. Millions of patients receive unnecessary treatments each year, leading to complications, reduced productivity, and significantly higher costs.

Source: Institute of Medicine Report, September 2012.

Consolidation in the health care marketplace means less competition. That gives employers less leverage to negotiate favorable pricing. As a result of consolidation, many health care systems have transitioned services from a not-for-profit to for-profit status, adding the cost of “profit” to medical charges. In addition, there continues to be a great deal of opportunity to streamline the wide range of administrative processes used today in order to eliminate waste from the system.

Governmental factors also play a role in health care cost inflation. Hospitals and doctors receive limited reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid for patients in those systems. To keep operating at a profit, they must recover those “losses” through the prices they charge commercially insured patients, most of whom have coverage from their employers. Ultimately, it’s the employer and covered employees who end up footing the bill for low reimbursement levels by Medicare and Medicaid and the uninsured.

Additional Consumer Resources