There’s no question about it: medical expenses can be high. But you might be surprised to discover just how many ways there are to reduce your medical expenses – especially the smaller month-to-month costs that quickly add up. Here are some of our best cost saving ideas.
Rethink your GP visit, see a pharmacist first
Most people visit their GPs when they have a cold, flu or a tummy bug. As rotten as these things may make you feel, there’s very little a GP can actually do about them other than help alleviate the symptoms. A pharmacist can offer you much of the same medication, and they consult for free. Unless you feel you a have a serious illness and need a GP’s diagnosis and care, visit your pharmacist before you see your GP.
Look into your local pharmacy’s clinic facilities
While you’re at your pharmacy, check out the services they offer. Most pharmacies run clinics where experienced nurses will provide a consultation and offer basic medical care and advice, such as blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol testing and monitoring. The cost of these services is very reasonable. For example, a consultation with a nurse at a Dis-Chem clinic costs R70, a blood pressure check R35, a basic cholesterol test R85 and a vitamin B12 injection R60. *
Some Clicks, Dis-chem and Local Choice pharmacies offer online GP consultations at around R300, which is about half the price of a usual GP visit. Always check if your local pharmacy offers these services and book in advance.
Use prepaid vouchers to visit GPs
You can also buy prepaid vouchers for GP consultations from Netcare and Discovery. These vouchers start at R290 for a virtual online consultation, with a R430 voucher from Netcare including the cost of acute medication, if necessary. Only certain GPs offer these consultations so check that there is a GP in your area who will accept vouchers before buying them.
There are many ways you can reduce your medical expenses
Consider your GP before your paediatrician
Specialists charge top rates, so don’t consult them without a referral from your GP or emergency medical centre. An otherwise healthy baby doesn’t need to visit a paed when they get a cold or a fever (and a paed certainly doesn’t need to spend their time prescribing a saline nose spray). Most paeds, in fact, are happy to refer their small patients to GPs they trust, knowing that if the illness is more serious than a cold or upset tummy, the GP will call them.
A paed might charge upwards of R1 200, and a GP is usually around R600, so you’ll save money – and you’ll get to see the GP a lot quicker. You should consider this rule for other specialists as well – if you are seeing a specialist just to renew a prescription, find out whether a GP can take over your care.
Gynae too pricey? Rather find out where else to get women’s health services
Certain Dis-Chem, Clicks and Local Choice clinics offer PAP smears, breast exams and family planning services. You can also have these procedures at Marie Stopes clinics and other family planning clinics, campus clinics or mobile clinics such as PinkDrive in your area. Look online or ask around for a reference.
Replace your medication with available generics
Generics are medications that are created after the patent has expired on branded medication. They are identical to the original formulation, but because there’s no money to be spent on research and development, they are a lot cheaper. If you are prescribed a medication, always ask if there is a generic.
Use CANSA’s services for cancer screening
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) offers PAP smears, breast cancer screening, prostate cancer screening, skin cancer screening and lifestyle risk assessments to assess your cancer risk at their CANSA Care Centres nationwide. They also have CANSA Mobile Health Clinics that travel around the country, so if you are not in a major city centre, find out when one is coming to your area.
Screening at these centres and mobile clinics costs between R90 and R380, depending on the test – which is certainly cheaper than a visit to a GP, dermatologist, urologist or gynaecologist.
Look out for health awareness events and get tested
During Diabetes Awareness Day (in November) or Heart Awareness Month (in September), many participating organisations offer free or reduced cost testing. Get in touch with Diabetes SA or the Heart and Stroke Foundation to find out if there are any events or testing drives you can participate in. Your local hospital may also have an outreach day where they offer free services such as blood pressure testing, so keep an eye on local news sites and social media pages for details. And never turn down the opportunity to participate in a health assessment if your company offers one on a corporate wellness day.
Find out if your employer offers medical care
Some companies offer their staff select medical care. This can range from an onsite clinic for workplace injuries and general ailments to weekly or monthly onsite visits from healthcare professionals such as nurses and doctors. Use these services when they are available because they will save you money.
Consider your local government hospital’s services
If you have a government hospital near you, it can be worth paying a visit to find out what healthcare services and clinics they offer. While you will almost always queue to be seen, you will be charged on a sliding scale basis in line with what you can afford, with most expenses not exceeding a couple of hundred rand. For example, the Helen Joseph Hospital has an excellent Breast Care Clinic for women in need of a breast exam or even cancer treatment.
Do home tests for STDs
It’s a good idea to start out a new relationship by testing for sexually transmitted diseases, so that both partners can be confident that they are in good health. The cheapest way of conducting an STD test is to buy a testing kit from FAMKA, and conduct the tests in the privacy of your own home. The STD Combo Kit, which includes tests for all major STDs and HIV, costs R435 plus a delivery fee. This range of tests can cost more than R2 000 elsewhere.
Get your hearing and sight tested for free
Don’t just go to your nearest optometrist or audiologist for testing. Call around to see if you can find one offering the basic test for free – many do. Obviously, you’ll have to pay for further services if you discover there is some kind of a problem, but simply having your hearing and eyesight tested needn’t cost you anything.
The bottom line
There are many ways to access medical services that don’t cost a fortune and in no way compromise the standard of care you receive. If money is tight, it’s worth investigating ways to make medical care more cost effective for you and your family.
* Prices quoted at time of writing.
Original article published on: 7th February 2017
Updated on: 3rd February 2020
Updated on: 10 February 2021