29 Ways to Prevent Visiting the Doctor


You’ve heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But is there anything else you can do to prevent unnecessary visits and save money?

I like to think that I have done fairly well in this area, averaging a sick visit about once every couple of years for most of my adult life. In hindsight, a few of those could have been skipped. Mostly, I have learned through trial and error to recognize when rest, fluids, and over-the-counter meds are fine and when intervention is needed, plus I picked up on ways to stay healthy by reading about research studies and recommendations. (See also: 25 Healthy Changes You Can Make Today)

Here are some specific actions that have helped me to prevent visits to the doctor.

Have Healthy Habits

There are many small things that you can do every day that can have a big impact on your overall wellness and keep you from having to be treated for chronic illnesses. Not all disease can be prevented, and many people have genetic tendencies that lead to health problems. Still, there are steps you can take to prevent doctor's visits plus save money in other spending categories.

1. Get to Know Your Local Farmers

Visit your local farmers market or just stop by a roadside stand to get to know farmers and gardeners, talk about food, and buy locally grown produce. They can often give you food prep tips and tell you what's in season as well as help you eat enough fruit and vegetables on a daily basis.

2. Make Your Own Salad Dressings

Commercially bottled salad dressings often use sugar, sodium, and extra fat to add flavor. Control the ingredients and save money by making your own salad dressing at home

3. Cook With Wine

Even though too much alcohol can cause health problems, small amounts of wine may be beneficial to your health. Use wine as a low-fat alternative to adding flavor to recipes for fruit salads, marinades, and more. You can even use wine in crock pot recipes (see #3, coq au vin).

4. Practice Yoga

Yoga can help you relax and reduce anxiety, which is a major health problem among young adults. According to Mayo Clinic and WebMD, poses can be beneficial for building and maintaining flexibility, range of motion, balance, posture, and strength, which can help avoid physical therapy needed to restore function in these areas. A friend who is a yoga instructor also mentions that sitting up straight has helped her to maintain her height as she has gotten older, despite having a debilitating disease.

Check out these links to find free or cheap yoga classes and free online yoga videos.

5. Take a Spin Class

Spin classes can improve your cardiovascular capabilities and release endorphins, which can improve your mood and help battle mild depression and anxiety. Before you sign up, read about what to expect at a spin (or indoor cycle) class.

6. Go to a Late-Night Movie

Find entertaining and engaging ways to have fun and socialize in the evening that don’t involve consuming lots of alcohol. You already know that binge drinking can cause problems. But binge-drinking episodes as a young adult can also impair judgment and cause heart problems later in life. So finding cool stuff to do at night with friends — like a movie, comedy show, or bowling — can be a boon to your current well-being and long-term health.

7. Train for a 5K

My brother-in-law started running 5Ks after a heart attack in his 40s as a form of cardio rehabilitation. But you may consider tackling such an event prior to the possibility of developing heart disease.

Join a group training program or follow my guide to running your first 5K. After you accomplish that goal, consider training for a half-marathon or marathon during the winter months as an alternative to a gym membership. Just invest in shoes and winter workout gear.

8. Carry Dried Fruit as Fuel During Long Workouts

Dried fruit (such as cranberries, dates, plums, and cherries) is nutritious and contains antioxidants, which may be useful in fighting cancer. For me, though, they have too many calories for everyday snacking. However, they are a great energy source and a frugal alternative to generally pricier sports gels, etc. with the bonus of having health benefits.

9. Visit a Dentist

Dental problems rank in the top 10 of reasons for emergency room visits, according to Discovery Health. You may be able to get inexpensive dental care by visiting a local dental school or community college with a dental hygiene program.  

10. Snack on Walnuts

Substitute walnuts (or other nutritious nuts) for candy bars, cookies, doughnuts, and chips. Eating small amounts of nuts may help you to lower your cholesterol while avoiding junk food that causes health problems. 

11. Host a Meeting While Walking

To fit in more exercise and avoid disease associated with a sedentary lifestyle, find ways to get more activity during the day. You might hold a meeting with a coworker or two while walking. Or you could walk to lunch, walk to the branch office, or park in a distant lot instead of snagging the closest space at the mall. 

12. Take a Date on a Hike

If you are looking for a fun and inexpensive date with health benefits, go on a hike. Just make sure that you know the route and bring plenty of water.

13. Pick Blueberries With Your Kids

Skip the indoor video arcade and go pick fruit at a nearby farm or orchard. Blueberries and fruits that you can pick yourself are usually cheaper than store-bought, plus they are fresher. Occasionally, you may buy already-picked fruit at roadside stands that has been picked earlier in the day or the day before, also at a great price. Freeze blueberries that you don't eat immediately.

14. Make a Homemade Smoothie for Breakfast

You can often get 1-2 servings of fruit for breakfast if you make a smoothie at home. Plus, you can avoid lots of extra fat and calories associated with a fast-food breakfast or pastry. 

15. Volunteer

If you are looking for things to do in your free time that can contribute to your community, professional credentials, and health, find a place to volunteer. Some studies have shown that volunteering has a beneficial impact on wellness

16. Have a PB&J Sandwich and Apple for Lunch

For a quick lunch, skip the drive-through at the fast-food restaurant and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (choose all-natural peanut butter without the added trans-fats to get the health benefits of peanuts) on whole wheat bread with an apple as your side dish. Make at home or bring the supplies to have on hand at work. 

17. Take a Class

A class at the university, community college, or elsewhere can keep your brain active and help prevent dementia or limit the effects of dementia. You may not be worried about aging problems right now, but you can also learn new skills that can save you money. Plus, you may be able to expand your circle of friends and professional network. 

Avoid Accidents and Incidents

Even relatively minor accidents and incidents can cause you to seek medical help. Take simple steps to stay safe.

18. Cover Up

Wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, and gloves can help prevent allergic reaction from poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac when you are tending to natural areas in your yard. Cover-ups and special UPF clothing can protect your skin from sunburn, particularly if you happen to have extra-sensitive skin. Putting on a cap while hiking can help keep ticks from biting and hiding in your hair. Carry extra clothing in your backpack or car trunk. 

19. Learn to Swim

Swimming is a great life skill and can help you to avoid being fearful around water and, well, drowning. Plus swimming is beneficial to your heart health and friendly to your joints.

20. Be Prepared With First Aid Knowledge

It sounds geeky, but having basic first aid supplies on hand can prevent doctor's visits. You can quickly tend to wounds and possibly avoid complications.

21. Respect Age Recommendations

Following age recommendations for children's toys, carnival rides, etc. helps parents prevent accidents and incidents. The one time that I ignored a recommendation, my son ended up in urgent care with a small toy part in his nose.

22. Read Medication Labels and Inserts

Reading the literature that comes with medication can help you to recognize side effects and complications, or perhaps avoid them by closely following instructions and warnings. If you happen to have tossed out this information or want to learn about medications before you get a prescription, visit drug-makers' websites to read what you need to know.

23. Check Your Gear

Before going on an outdoor adventure, inspect your gear. Replace components or entire sets of equipment if needed. Simple checks can often save you from an accident that can send you to the emergency room or urgent care facility. 

Know When You Should See the Doctor

No matter what you do, you'll occasionally get sick. Knowing when you should seek medical treatment and when you can safely take care of yourself is not always straightforward. But some basic knowledge can help you make a decision. Plus, there are a few things you can do to aid your recovery without seeing a physician. 

24. Do Your Own Triage

Just like the triage nurse sorts through which patients need to be seen immediately and who can wait, evaluate yourself, your husband or wife, or your children. Consider details like whether you are running a fever, when you started feeling badly, what specific symptoms are unusual or prominent, how long symptoms have lasted, and what has changed over the last few hours or days.

Generally, unless there is an odd symptom, unusually high fever, or no improvement for several days, I don’t make a doctor's visit. And if I do decide to see a doctor, I make a mental note about whether I could can skip a visit for subsequent, similar illnesses.

To help you figure out what to do, board-certified family physician Davis Liu, M.D. recommends using flow charts found at FamilyDoctor.org. These can help you clarify what's going on and either reassure you to stay away from the doctor or prompt you to make a visit if needed.

25. Talk to Your Pharmacist

Pharmacists can make recommendations for over-the-counter drugs that can be just as helpful as a doctor's visit. If you have a mild illness, consider stopping by the pharmacy first and making a doctor's appointment only if your condition persists or worsens. 

26. Make a Phone Call

If you have an established relationship with a physician, call the office to discuss your concerns and possibly prevent a visit. Before dialing, write down details about your condition so that you can be ready to talk and won’t miss saying an important bit of information. Also, remember to ask about normal progression of an illness (say the stomach virus that is going around) and when symptoms should lessen so that you won’t have to make a visit later if your recovery takes longer than you hoped.

I have found that the office staff is either a) great about letting you know that they do not want to see you or your sick child because, for example, you probably have a virus that should be treated by resting at home or b) clueless in advising you and instead just ask what you want to do — which naturally negates the purpose of the call. When the advice seems unclear, request a call back from a nurse who knows you or your physician.

27. Send an Email

You may have the option to converse with your physician or a nurse at the doctor’s office by secure email. This process may take longer than a phone call (up to a couple of days), but I have found this technique to be a clearer way to communicate. It can be useful if you have nagging but non-urgent symptoms or if you have discovered that the usual response time is reasonably fast.

28. Say “No” to Excessive Treatments

Occasionally, you will meet a physician who wants to schedule appointments or provide medical interventions that are not necessary. It can be scary to say “no” to someone you think you should trust, but there are times when refusing diagnostic testing or treatment is the smartest course of action.

For example, a couple of years ago, I turned down a recommendation from an orthopedic specialist for an MRI to diagnose back pain for my son. The physician didn’t provide a clear explanation of how the results could be used to design or improve a treatment plan, beyond the information that he had already gathered. We declined the $1,800 procedure and subsequent office visits, and I advised my son to rest rather than pursue rehabilitation through this practice. After a few more weeks, the pain disappeared. Since then, I have read that MRIs are not recommended for all patients with back pain

29. Make an Occasional Doctor's Visit

It may seem counterintuitive, but an occasional, planned visit can help prevent multiple visits. Your physician should be able to give you tips on staying healthy based on a review of your habits, evaluation of your and your family’s medical history, and numbers like blood pressure and blood work. You may be able to get some immunizations that can prevent disease. Finally, those occasional visits can make you eligible for quick phone or email consultations.

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