In 2017, the U.S. spent around $3.5 trillion on health care, which is more than twice the average of other developed countries. Needless to say, we spend a lot on health. From an individual standpoint, unexpected costs can put a huge financial strain on you and your family, with bigger emergencies possibly putting you in debt.

While some situations can’t be avoided, there are some steps you can take to make sure you stay out of the emergency room and avoid the substantial costs. Here are a few steps you can take to save money on health care.

Avoid the Flu

While we all know that getting the flu isn’t fun, what you may not know is how serious and life-threatening it can be. The CDC estimates that 710,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 56,000 flu-related deaths have occurred since 2010. While this can happen to anyone, severe cases are more likely to happen to those under the age of 5 and over the age of 65. The hospital bills can quickly rack up from this, with the costs possibly being more than just monetary. It’s essential to prepare yourself for flu season and make sure you avoid any unnecessary hospitalizations.

Get the Flu Shot

Getting a flu shot each year is one of the best things you can do to avoid the flu and any related hospital bills. Depending on your health insurance situation, you may have to pay out of pocket, or it might be free. Regardless, it’s essential to get this vaccine if you want to avoid getting the flu.

Stay Informed

Staying educated about the flu, possible signs, and how to avoid it is a great step to help you stay away from the flu. For example, knowing when you’re most likely to encounter the flu will be a great first step. While the common cold mainly occurs in the fall and spring (when 50% of instances occur), flu season is at its strongest during the winter months, extending into both spring and fall. Keep yourself informed about trends and warning signs, and you’ll be better prepared for the oncoming flu season.

Keep Good Health Habits

Since the flu is extremely contagious, its important to keep healthy habits to keep the virus away and keep your body strong. Be sure to frequently wash your hands and ensure that you don’t share anything with someone who has the flu or flu-like symptoms. This includes doorknobs and tabletops, as one virus could be spread to 40 to 60 percent of workers or visitors within just a few hours of contamination. On top of washing your hands, you’ll want to rest well, stay hydrated, and eat properly to make sure that your immune system is prepared to fight off any sort of viruses.

Know When to Choose the ER

When faced with an unexpected emergency, you may have to debate on whether or not you should go to an emergency room or urgent care. There’s a lot of factors that go into this decision, such as the severity of the issue and the availability of locations, among others. Another big player is the cost of each. On average, the cost of choosing an urgent care ranges between $100 and $200, with the average emergency room cost more than doubling it at more than $500. It’s estimated that 44 to 65% of all ER visits could have been treated at an urgent care, but there are situations where going to an emergency room is more appropriate. So how do you make the call on which one to go to?

The general rule of thumb is that you should go to an emergency room for anything that is life-threatening, where urgent care centers can help for any non-emergency situations.

You may want to consider going to an urgent care for:

  • Minor fractures and X-rays
  • Fevers, headaches, and colds
  • Allergies and rashes
  • Sprains and strains

On the flip side, an emergency room might be more appropriate for situations like:

  • Chest pain
  • Bleeding
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke

Knowing when you should choose to go to the emergency room versus taking the cheaper route and going to an urgent care can help you save a lot of money in the long run.

Be a Safe Driver

With a rear-end collision happening every eight seconds in the United States, its safe to say that accidents are far from uncommon. Accidents in the U.S. lead to 3 million injured drivers and passengers each year. Not only do these accidents leave you with the cost of repair/replacement of the car, but it can also lead to a spike in car insurance prices. If you get injured, a pricey health care bill follows. This can include both immediate, emergency room situations and long term injuries that take surgeries or a lot of physical therapy time to fix. It’s best to avoid this situation altogether, and to be as safe as possible while on the road.

To stay safe on the road, it’s important to stay focused. To do this, make sure that you put away any distractions and make sure that you are in the best state to drive. This includes making sure you are well-rested and not under the influence of anything. On top of this, be sure to keep in mind the weather conditions while driving. Snow, wind, and rain can drastically change driving conditions, giving the steering wheel to Mother Nature. Be sure you’re careful in these times and are taking all possible precautions, such as staying far enough away from the car ahead of you. Finally, don’t allow yourself to become victim to bad driving habits like road rage and speeding. These can possibly increase your risk of getting into an accident. Instead, take a defensive driving course and apply what you learn.

While we can’t prevent every single emergency from occurring, there are steps we can take to better our odds. By becoming a safer driver, avoiding the flu, and knowing how to choose between an emergency room and urgent care, you can significantly decrease your medical expenses and live a better life.

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