Patricia Chaney

Controlling Costs: Otolaryngology (the Ear, Nose and Throat Specialty)

Otolaryngology is the oldest medical specialty in the United States, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. But what is otolaryngology? Your employees may be unfamiliar with this service or when it’s appropriate. Here’s an overview to help educate them.

What Is Otolaryngology and What Does an ENT Treat?

Also called ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists, otolaryngologists treat and manage a range of issues with the head and neck. In addition to providing diagnoses and medical management, these specialists are also surgeons. They can specialize in particular areas like allergy, plastic and reconstructive surgery, head and neck, laryngology, pediatrics, otology/neurotology and rhinology.

An ENT treats a wide range of common conditions and is often the expert, not surprisingly, on anything related to ears, nose and throat, as well as head and neck structures. This includes:

  • Allergies
  • Sinusitis
  • Hearing loss
  • Ear infections
  • Balance disorders
  • Gastric reflux
  • Snoring and sleep apnea
  • Swallowing disorders
  • Tumors in and trauma to the head and neck

A primary care physician may refer someone to an ENT for closer management, diagnosis, treatment or surgery for one of these issues. For example, someone who suffers from chronic allergies or sinus infections or someone with difficulty swallowing after a stroke may see an ENT to get specialized treatment.

Patients are also referred to an ENT when the medical issue requires specialized experienced beyond what the primary care physician can provide. This usually happens with recurring issues or problems that interfere with quality of life, as can happen with sleep apnea or severe acid reflux.

How to Manage ENT Otolaryngology Costs

Your employees’ medical bills for seeing a specialist can add up quickly. It’s important that they know how to evaluate what’s clinically appropriate and prepare for the costs. Share these five tips with them.

  1. Start at the referral. Your insurance may require that you receive a referral from a primary care doctor before seeing a specialist. At that point, you should ask for more than one doctor’s name to compare costs and experience.
  2. Call and ask about costs and insurance. Make sure the doctor you want to see is in-network. This means lower copays and coinsurance. Ask how much is billed for a consultation.
  3. Ask for a detailed estimate of costs for any recommended lab test, imaging scan or procedure before agreeing to have it done.
  4. Ask everything you need to know before choosing a treatment option. Compare the risks and benefits of any suggestion, such as surgery versus conservative treatment. Ask about the purpose of a test or scan.
  5. Shop around for elective procedures. Procedures done in an office setting tend to be least expensive, while hospitals tends to be the most expensive setting. Look for outpatient procedures that can be performed in an ambulatory surgery center instead of a hospital to save money. Check to make sure the location for the procedure is in-network, and remember to get a detailed estimate first.
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Encourage employees to use their flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts to cover the out-of-pocket expenses related to an ENT visit.

Just knowing more about what otolaryngology is and what a specialist provides — along with feeling empowered to ask questions — can help your employees save money without sacrificing their health.

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