How much should an ear ache cost?

Photo credit: Kelly Arashin

I had a very relaxing and restorative trip up to northern Michigan last week with my family.

The weather was perfect. There was sightseeing in national forests, campfires and s'mores, good wine, good stories, and some hard work constructing a drainage system on the side of my parents' log home on Lake Huron.

However, one little aspect of my trip wasn't so nice: an earache.

I've suffered from occasional earaches since I was a little kid. For whatever reason I have small, tortuous ear canals which are susceptable to occasional infections, especially when I swim in a lake or the ocean.

Since I've been dealing with earaches for a very long time I know exactly how to treat them. I irrigate the infected ear with 50/50 water and hydrogen peroxide and I apply Cipro ear drops twice daily until the infection is resolved (which doesn't take long at all provided that I'm not out of Cipro ear drops).

Well, wouldn't you know it, I didn't bring Cipro ear drops with me on vacation. I didn't have a 10 or 20 cc syringe either. So I did what anyone else would do under the circumstances.

I toughed it out until I got home.

Unfortunately, when I got home I couldn't find any Cipro ear drops. So I either lost them or I'm out.

I did, however, irrigate my infected ear and gently applied triple antibiotic ointment with a Q-tip (I know, I know — listen, I was desperate).

To make matters worse, my regular doctor recently moved his practice a couple of hundred miles away to be closer to his aging mother. I have a new doctor who saw me recently for knee pain. Nice guy, but I don't know him well.

So here's my question to all of you. Is it reasonable that I should have to drive 30 miles, sit in the waiting room, get shuffled back into an exam room, get my vital signs taken, receive a physician exam, obtain a prescription, and get billed for a $60-$100 office visit, just to get a prescription for medical problem that I've had for my entire life?

I'm hoping that won't be necessary. I called the new doctor's office and spoke to an office clerk. I explained the situation and requested that a prescription be called into my local pharmacy. She seemed less than enthusiastic but told me that a nurse would call me back later with the doctor's reply.


  • Diagnosis by phone…there's no profit in that.  My daughter's croup can be diagnosed over the phone and the staff knows us, but they still require us to come in, sit, get her BP and weight, wait for the doc who comes in, apologizes, emails the script and leaves.  Of course after our co-pay is collected.
    You shouldn't have to at all, but managed care would crumble and lose billions in profits if Doctors and patients were allowed to make decisions based solely on medicine.

  • Christopher says:

    I've been able to call my PA's nurse and get most of my minor issues handled. Under my old insurance plan, I could do a "nurse visit" without a co-pay as an option. Usually used those to refill Rx's. Was nice.
    New insurance is one of those "consumer driven plans," i.e. you spend an arm and a leg out of pocket for no difference in care. Actually, I'd wager that I get worse care because I'm less likely to seek care given its new cost.

  • JR says:

    A doctor friend told me a little secret about the new electronic medical records systems. Let's say you go see him for an ear infection. He does an ENT exam, turns to the computer terminal in his exam room and clicks the appropriate buttons to record the ENT exam findings. Then the computer pops up a little window that says "if you do a strep swab this will be upgraded from a class 3 visit to a class 2 visit." That tells him that by doing a strep swab your bill will go up $20 or so. So the computer is suggesting ways for the practice to increase its billing. 

  • I will say this about Managed Care, sometimes they do it right.  I have Kaiser (out on the West Coast) and they have embraced tele-medicine and e-medicine.  I can email my doctor and have a prescription at the pharmacy in a day or so for most basic complaints.  It helps that he knows I'm a paramedic, however.
    Justin brings up a good point, however, regarding the billing aspect.  Kaiser doesn't make anything off of me for that service.  They do, however, get to crank through a lot more patients in a shorter period of time.  There is a downside to this though.  Doctors are losing their ability (or desire) to interact with patients face to face and to take a complete history.  I had to go into the office for a visit and my doctor walked in, sat down, asked me what was going on and then asked me what I thought I needed.  The entire time he was doing this, he never looked up from his computer screen, nor did he actually perform any kind of assessment.  Sure, e-mail diagnosis is convenient, and for your condition it seems appropriate, but it has the potential to ruin the already tenuous interpersonal skills some practitioners possess.
    Lastly, glad you enjoyed Northern Michigan, the family and I are heading to Traverse City in a few weeks!

  • nah, just call an ambulance. everyone does it. wait 'til after midnight – the crews love it and the ED is not as busy.

  • Eff Dogg says:

    to burned out- actually the "pro's" call the ER front desk first to ask how long the average wait time is currently! but seriously- urgent care center might be a decent temporary solution to such ear-ache type problems. but then 65$ is a lot of money.

  • Ben says:

    coming from a country where such visits are free can I just say socialized medicine – nothing to be scared off. Hasn’t turned us Commie yet 😉

  • Hello,
    Thank you for nice writing. It will help me to understand, what  prescription medications cost is?

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