Strive to be an Educated Healthcare Consumer

Most people spend a lot of time researching and weighing options for a large purchase or a decision like changing a job. When it comes to healthcare, however, most people don’t do much research or consider options at all. A 2010 Gallup poll showed that 70% of people feel confident in their doctor’s advice and don’t feel the need to do their own research or get a second opinion. This can lead to poor outcomes, unnecessary treatments, increased costs, or treatments that don’t match patient goals. So what can you do to become a more educated healthcare consumer? Ask questions to understand what your options are, what is being recommended, and why.  Some good questions to start with are:

● What are the risks and benefits of this treatment?

● What other options do I have?

● Why is this treatment better than the alternatives?

● What’s it cost?

A great example of a common treatment that patients should research before agreeing to is back surgery. Without researching and considering alternative treatments, many patients would expect to have back surgery and be pain-free. In this case, the reality is far from perception. Outcomes from back surgeries are terrible. A large study of 1450 patients in the Ohio worker’s comp system showed that after 2 years 26% of patients who had surgery returned to work. Compare that to 67% of patients who didn’t have surgery. There was also a 41% increase in the use of painkillers in the surgical group. Physical therapy is an alternative treatment for back pain that has been proven to lead to better outcomes, less surgery, less use of expensive imaging and less opioid use. PT is also less risky than surgery and a much lower cost. In fact, a large study of 122,723 subjects showed that people with back pain who got physical therapy in the first 14 days lowered their healthcare costs by 60%. Despite the effectiveness of physical therapy, the low risk, and low cost, only 2.1% of people who seek care for back pain start with physical therapy. This is a great example of why patients need to ask questions and understand all their treatment options before deciding on one.

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