Back pain is a very common complaint among adults. In fact, most people will experience an attack of acute back pain at least once in their life. For some this pain continues and develops into chronic back pain, a term that usually describes a pain that lasts more than 3 – 6 months.
Chronic back pain develops very differently in different people. There are many causes, so the proper treatment varies greatly from person to person. Because of that, it’s best to be tested in order to get a proper diagnosis. Why? When your pain is properly diagnosed, you can receive the right treatment to give you lasting relief and not require you to come back on a regular basis for “adjustments,” or worst of all, unnecessary surgery.
Getting the most accurate and the most cost-effective back pain testing can be tricky.
Here are the 5 facts you should know for chronic back pain relief before being evaluated, tested, and treated.
1. Find an Independent Doctor
Hospital employed doctors can be as good as independent doctors. But, they’re just more expensive —sometimes a lot more expensive — because they use hospital facilities. You don’t necessarily get a better test or evaluation just because they’re employed by a hospital. But, you will pay a lot more for the same services (usually 2-5 times the costs in a hospital setting vs. in an independent setting). In these days of high deductible insurance, where the initial expense will come right out of your own pocket, knowledge of this simple fact can save you a lot of money.
2. Demand to know the Costs Involved
“Cost Transparency” is the buzzword today, but all it means is you need to find out what a test or procedure costs. We wouldn’t buy a car without knowing the cost and the same rule should apply to your healthcare. If you can’t get all the cost information upfront, move on to someone who can tell you. It’s your money and you deserve to know how much you’ll be spending.
3. Compare Prices
There is a wide disparity of pricing in the healthcare industry. The “cash” price will often be considerably less than the “insurance” price. So, you must be careful here because with deductibles and copays, the entire cost of the evaluation and testing could come right out of your pocket. When you ask the cost of a visit or procedure, if they tell you “You don’t care, because your insurance will be paying for it anyway,” run — don’t walk — from that conversation. It’s the way things used to be done, but that was ten years ago. Today, things are different. Know your deductibles and copays. Know the “cash price.”
Luckily, we are slowly entering a world where healthcare price data and outcomes data can be compared with a simple click of a button. For instance, I live in Kansas. Here, all state employees have access to a site that lists prices from all major insurance vendors. More of this will be available in the future, as software entrepreneurs realize the importance of that data and the profits that can be made by selling apps and programs that let you, the consumer, compare prices and quality.
4. Quality Matters
Though price comparison is crucial in helping you get the most cost-effective testing, it doesn’t account for differences in the quality of doctors. Not all testing is the same and you need a doctor who is knowledgeable about the test you are having. If the doctor who orders your test can’t go over that test with you and explain it in detail, then they probably shouldn’t be the one ordering the test in the first place.
For example, let’s take a “simple” MRI of the brain. First, you need to know that not all MRI’s are done equally. And in the case of neurology, you need a test your neurologist can rely upon to treat you. Not just some one-size-fits-all study read by a doctor who doesn’t know you and will never see you. Plus, some MRI doctors will use a contrast agent which helps improve visibility. But, MRI contrast agents can sometimes cause damage, and always make the MRI much more expensive. Do you need a contrast? If your doctor orders one with your MRI, they better know what they’re looking for and why they’re ordering contrast.
5. You Should Be Able to Trust Your Doctor
Testing and diagnosis can be a scary process, since there are so many variables in coming to a correct diagnosis. Deciding about your healthcare is not as simple as ordering a pizza. In fact, I would argue that it’s more complicated than rocket science! We don’t know everything in medicine, though we’re learning every day. Your doctor should be open and honest with you about what they know, and what they don’t know. You shouldn’t feel afraid to ask them the hard questions and you should expect to get them answered. If this isn’t happening, look elsewhere for medical help!
It sounds pretty complicated, but it’s not. Find a good doctor who’s independent, trust that doctor, price shop for yourself, and listen to your gut. And, above all, never be afraid to ask questions. When it comes to your health, there is no such thing as a stupid question!