One of the great paradoxes of our nation is that we spend far more, by a great margin, than any other country on healthcare yet we don’t live the longest. According to a report from the NCHC [PDF], which was based on other research, we spent $2.3 trillion on health care in 2007 or about $7600 per person. (that article lists a lot of other sobering statistics).
Part of the reason is because the system is so complicated and convoluted. When a doctor orders a battery of exams, it he or she motivated by expertise, fear, or greed? Is the test what is actually needed because the doctor needs to rule out a particular condition, or does the doctor fear malpractice suits so he orders every possible exam, or does the doctor need to up his pay this month because he has a vacation soon? While I’d say that most medical practitioners operate out of expertise, there is a subset that operates, if only sometimes, in the other two groups too.
That’s where Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely by Davis Liu comes in. It’s a guide to help you navigate the complexities and vagaries of the American healthcare system.
About Dr. Liu
Who is Dr. Davis Liu? He’s a board-certified family physician with the Permanente Medical Group in Northern California, graduate summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the Wharton School of Business and the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and has written several opinion pieces that have appear in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee.
Do Your Homework, Question Everything, Pay Nothing (At First)
That’s the subheading of a section in which Dr. Liu explains how you can be a smarter consumer of medical care, specifically with respect to the billing process. He tells one story about his brother who saw a general practitioner and specialist for a throat issue. His brother confirmed with the insurance company that the visits would be covered yet was billed anyway. Fortunately, due to diligent note taking which included which representatives they spoke to, the issue was resolved and the brother didn’t have to pay anything.
The lesson here is that you should question everything, since most medical bills contain errors, and confirm with the insurance company as to whether something is covered (unless it’s a true medical emergency).
The book has a lot more in it than I explained so here’s a listing of what’s included in each of the eight parts:
- The Most Important Policy You Will Ever Own: This part discusses health insurance in general from how much coverage you need to what an HSA is, from COBRA to health care costs.
- Mastering the Ten-Minute Doctor Office Visit: Every aspect of a typical visit with a physician is covered including how to be a “wise patient,” versus a typical one. It stresses the importance of knowing your medical history and making each visit count.
- Do the Right Thing Regularly and Repeatedly: This part stresses the importance of routine checkups and preventative medicine, such as routine screening, immunizations, and age specific checks.
- Meet Your Medical Team: Any and every medical professional you’ll meet is discussed in this chapter along with anything you may need to know about their profession. Do you know what a Rheumatologist or a Nephrologist or a Ophthalmologist is? If you said you did and you’re not one, you’re probably lying.
- The Truth About Medications: It’s hardly a hard hitting expose on branded medicines but he discusses branded vs. generic (and points out studies of the placebo effect, a topic discussed in Predictably Irrational too) and even goes through over the counter drugs.
- Caveat Emptor, Or “Let the Buyer Beware”: This section talks about all the unproven, untested remedies from body scans to herbal remedies. He’s a little apprehensive about them but does recognize that some provide benefits.
- Twenty-First Century Medical Care: Dr. Liu is looking forward in this chapter, looking at new and different techniques that may play a larger role in medicine in the future.
- Take Control: Excellent Health Pays: In this last part, he talks about how you can be proactive about your health such as using the internet for research (which can be counter productive, depending on your mentality) and being active.
Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely is far more comprehensive than I gave it credit for when I first opened it. I expected a book that discusses health insurance, government plans like HSAs and FSAs, and medical expense related ideas but this one really went above and beyond that. The sections discussing all the specialists, the various medications, and even looking to the future of medicine was a nice bonus. Another nice bonus was Dr. Liu’s style, I can see why he would be asked to write opinion pieces in the newspaper because he has a very easy style that likely translates into a comforting bedside manner.
If the whole world of medicine intimidates you, this book can help by giving you a good basic understanding of the whole breadth of the medical world.