U.S. medical care has a reputation around the world for its high quality and technological progress. Hospitals, clinics, medical schools and pharmaceutical companies must maintain strict compliance with governmental standards, and all medical professionals must obtain licensure to practice medicine.
However, medical care in the U.S. also qualifies as big business with limited government sponsored care or programs, with the exception of the elderly or very poor. Companies spend billions of dollars to research new drugs, techniques and procedures, as well as to market their services and innovations. That means that health care in the U.S. comes with a significant cost.
The insurance industry plays a pivotal role in U.S. medical care. Obtaining a health insurance policy makes sense, but it also requires a significant monthly expense.
Finding a Doctor
As a student, you have the benefit of using the health center located on your campus. If your medical care requires more than the health center can provide, they will refer you to the appropriate physician to manage your condition.
If you have health insurance, you should consult their website to determine what doctors they consider “in network,” because using them will ensure that they charge you less as a member of that particular insurance network. You can choose to use “out of network” doctors, but you will have to pay higher fees, as those doctors do not have an agreement with your insurance company.
Finding a Dentist
Most campuses do not provide dental services, so you will likely need to find your own dental provider. Ask friends, neighbors and co-workers for referrals.
Some factors to consider when making your choice:
- Convenient office hours?
- Convenient location?
- Appointment availability?
- Dental insurance accepted?
- Technology available?
- Staff friendliness and helpfulness?
- Cleanliness and infection control?
Unlike many countries, the United States does not have a national medical care program to cover all health care. Since individuals must pay their own medical expenses—which can add up to a lot of money—most Americans purchase health insurance either through their employer or individually, to help pay their medical costs.
Even if you have insurance from your own country, you may need to purchase additional insurance while in the U.S. Ask your foreign student adviser or an insurance agent whether the school you attend or the insurance company offers a special insurance policy for international students.
When purchasing health insurance, like automobile insurance, you pay premiums based upon the types of medical expenses covered under each policy, and the amount of your deductible. Health insurance deductibles, which accumulate each calendar year, require the insured to pay a certain amount of their medical expenses, before the insurance benefit begins to pay towards the totals. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium. Conversely, the lower the deductible, the higher the monthly premium.
The actions you should take in a medical emergency depend upon the type of emergency. For life-threatening injuries or illnesses, or for a serious medical emergency in which a person cannot or should not be moved, dial 911 or call an ambulance directly.
For an injury or illness that requires attention but is not life-threatening, call a doctor’s office, a minor emergency care center, or the campus health clinic. They will give you instructions for how to proceed.
Become familiar with the locations of the nearest hospital emergency room, as well as minor emergency care centers closest to your home or campus.
Making a Doctor Appointment
To make a doctor’s appointment, telephone your campus health center or the doctor’s office during regular business hours. Most medical offices provide an after-hours telephone number for emergencies on their answering service. The person who answers your call will need your name, the name of the doctor you want to see (many doctors share offices), and your medical issue.
If you need medical attention for an illness or injury that requires immediate care, the office will usually make an appointment for that day. You may have to see whatever doctor is available. For a serious illness or injury, the doctor’s office may send you directly to the emergency room at the campus health center, a local hospital, or a special minor emergency care clinic.
If you want to schedule a routine checkup (a periodic appointment, usually once a year, for an examination to establish your general health condition), or some other reason that does not require immediate attention, you may have to schedule an appointment several days or weeks in the future.
In the U.S., pharmacies offer health and wellness related products, as well as controlled substances available only with a doctor’s prescription. While many medications can be purchased “over the counter” without a prescription, stronger medications and higher dosages which are regulated by the U.S. government, require the prescription to prove that you are under a physician’s care and not simply using the drugs improperly or recreationally. Many over-the-counter medications for common ailments, including colds, flu, or other general aches and pains, can be purchased at your local grocery store, as well as at a pharmacy.