Know some resources and use them
Triage is a commonly used word in medicine, especially in overcrowded emergency departments as staff do their best to determine which patients are sickest (will soon die unless treated) and which can wait. This process of prioritizing patients for treatment is known as triage.
But triage has a broader definition: The principle or practice of allocating limited resources.
And for most of us, money is definitely a limited resource!
In 2014 more health insurance policies will come with huge deductibles, and I think this trend will continue. Health care costs are not going to decrease in the near future (if at all), and to provide coverage for everyone, as Obamacare intends, we will all have to pay more towards our care.
Most people prefer to err on the side of caution, especially with children, but too many trips to the doctor (and possible diagnostic tests and referrals) can rapidly use up scarce savings. Luckily, there are resources available to help you make more informed decisions about when to seek medical help.
So be your own triage expert. Knowing when it’s OK to treat yourself at home rather than going to the doctor or urgent care clinic can save you a lot of money. And saving money on health care is what Frugal Nurse is all about.
Use decision trees to triage
Decision trees are simple flow charts that guide you through your symptoms and help you determine the best course of treatment. Treat at home? See a doctor? Call 911?
There are several resources that use decision trees, and you can easily find one to help you.
My favorite is the book Take Care of Yourself, 9th Edition: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Medical Self-Care by Drs. James Fries and Donald Vickery. I’ve posted about this book before because I think it’s a must-have for a home health care shelf.
This book has been in print since the 1970s. The current edition provides decision trees for dozens of common injuries and illnesses, as well as advice for buying over-the-counter medications and working with your doctor and the health care system.
There is also a pediatric version available: Taking Care of Your Child: A Parent’s Illustrated Guide to Complete Medical Care.
Comprehensive and easy to use, I highly recommend these books.
My go-to online resource is FamilyDoctor.org. This website by the American Academy of Family Physicians also provides decision trees in its Symptom Checker tool.
Related post: Apps for the cyberchondriac
Know your nurse hotline
I worked in a doctor’s office for many years, and I guarantee that if you call your doctor’s nurse and ask for advice, he or she will tell you to make an appointment. With few exceptions, these nurses are not trained in phone triage, and the doctors certainly don’t want them turning away business!
I prefer the free, 24-hour nurse consultants or hotlines provided by most insurance companies and some health care centers.
What do these triage nurses use? Decision trees! They will ask the necessary questions, and depending on your answers will advise you whether to home treat or seek an appropriate level of help (office or urgent care). They will also give you advice about home treatments, and instruct you when to call your doctor if your symptoms get worse.
Find the number for a nurse hotline through your insurance company or local health center, and add it to your contacts.
Medical emergencies, although expensive, will be thankfully uncommon for most of us. It’s the everyday ailments—coughs, colds, rashes, sprains, headaches, and so on—that can consume our health care budgets if we aren’t careful.