5 Ways to Avoid Getting Ripped Off at the Doctor's Office

Sometimes we're just sick and tired of getting ripped off at the doctor's.

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Most of us can think of at least a few times when we took our car to the mechanic and got the sense they were trying to sell us services we didn't need, or worse yet, overcharging us for the ones we do receive. And most of us can't deny that we've felt a similarly nagging feeling from time to time while sitting on the doctor's examining table, or in the dentist's chair. But we don't like to believe our intuition. It's been ingrained that our doctor knows what's best for us, and that their services are required and worth the money we pay.

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A doctor talking with a patient

So when a special advisory medical panel met last April, they cited up to 45 overused medical tests and procedures that should be used less in doctors' offices and hospitals. From that extra set of x-rays that isn't needed, to pointless stress tests for perfectly healthy people, or certain questionable prescription medications, the recommendations from the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation brought to light something we've hardly had the courage to express, but always wanted to: Sometimes we're just sick and tired of getting ripped off at the doctor's.

The costs are staggering: According to the Washington Post, A National Academy of Sciences report from 2005 found that 30 percent of U.S. healthcare spending was either unnecessary, wasteful, or both, and that some more recent studies revealed that the spending amounted to $600 billion to $700 billion annually.

Discussion forums across the Web are filled with complaints from people who criticize their dentist or primary care physician for trying to "up sell" them with products that are not only unneeded, but costly. According to Blisstree and other sources, when our doctor is insistent on giving us extra tests or exams, it's not to make more money, in fact, but to avoid a malpractice suit. Still, it's not much consolation when a dentist appears more eager to push their expensive tooth whitening package than to fill your painful cavity; or when a specialist insists on the most expensive prescriptions when a cheaper, over-the-counter alternative works just as well.

If you feel that you're paying more than you need to at the doctor, you can take control of your health (and the health of your savings account) by considering a few choices:

1. Seek out a second opinion.

Your dentist tells you that you need 10 cavities filled, seven root canals, and a new mouth of crowns—after insurance, it'll still cost you thousands of dollars. Yet another, separate dentist may find that all you need is some minimal dental work, saving you money, time, and physical discomfort.

The good news about healthcare is that you're not under contract or obligated to see just one doctor. If you're unhappy with the service you've received or price you've been quoted, it's perfectly acceptable to seek out another opinion from another doctor. Doctors are also required by law to forward your patient files or x-rays to other physicians. Don't feel guilty to shop around. Check with your insurance carrier—they'll be able to tell you which doctors in your network are board certified. Don't be afraid to refer to word-of-mouth websites like Yelp.com to see how some local specialists are rated. And when researching new physicians, see how much your co-payments will be stacked up against other doctors providing the same services.

2. Opt for medical schools and clinics.

Consider visiting a university dental or medical clinic for a checkup or exam. The cost is significantly cheaper and the care, very often, surpasses that of a regular medical practice. Most college clinic care is carried out by students under the supervision of a faculty M.D. Often, student doctors at specialty clinics, like those for chiropractic care or periodontal dental work, for example, have already received their full medical licensing.

Also consider visiting a low-cost medical clinic in your neighborhood. It's a cost-effective way of saving money while not skimping on the level of medical care you may need. It's a good option for the uninsured patient who can't afford to pay full cost, out of pocket, at a conventional medical practice.

3. Group exams and medical procedures together.

Say you've got three cavities that need filling, and you've scheduled three appointments for each—but you're unaware that there's a new co-payment for every visit. Now you may owe hundreds of dollars out of pocket. Work with your doctor or dentist to see their availability, and group major medical procedures into a plan that's physically, and financially, manageable for you. You can even do one better: If you're a prospective patient, schedule a consultation with the practitioner you've got in mind. Take a tour of their offices, ask about their rates, and see if you can receive an estimate of the services you may need. This can be an initial, low-cost way of diagnosing what kinds of medical services you may be in need of.

4. Avoid the up sell.

The Archives of Internal Medicine reported in 2011 that 40 percent of doctors polled, according to the L.A. Times, said that they ordered more tests and consultations than were necessary because they didn't get to spend enough time with their patients to make a proper diagnosis. Depending on your insurance plan, an extra test or three can come at a huge cost to you as the patient. If you're skeptical about a certain procedure, ask your doctor straight away if it's absolutely needed.

And like expensive cosmetics and other top-dollar products, which claim to perform better than their cheaper contemporaries, don't be swayed by a medical practitioner into buying pricey medicines or other items. Unless it's prescription, there's little reason to buy the tube of $30 toothpaste at the dentist's front counter when a generic $1.99 brand from the store works just as well. The same goes for prescriptions on everything from pain medication to back braces to contact lenses—your doctor may be able to prescribe you a generic brand at a savings to you.

5. Preventive care is the best medicine.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It can also be worth a lot to your finances, too. It goes without saying that eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep keeps you healthy and prevents illness and disease. Some lifestyle changes may be all the treatment that's needed to avoid costly doctor visit or exams, even those that rightly justify a high price tag. The first step in avoiding a medical rip-off is to ensure that we're not just being honest with our choices we make in physicians and services, but the ones we make with our health.

Paul Sisolak writes for www.GoBankingRates.com, your source for the best CD rates, savings account rates, personal finance news and more.