Establish a relationship with a primary care doctor. Your first visit with a new doctor costs 30-50 percent more than a return visit, even for new problems. You can avoid multiple first-time visit charges by maintaining a relationship with one primary care doctor. It’s important to select a primary care doctor that offers the affordable, high-quality care that’s right for you.

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Take advantage of free preventive care. Under the new healthcare law, health plans are required to pay 100 percent for your annual physical and other age- and gender-appropriate preventive screenings (e.g., well child exams, screening mammograms and screening colonoscopies) regardless of your deductible status. And, if you use your free annual physical for your first visit with a new doctor, you can avoid the higher first-visit costs altogether.

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Use specialists only when referred by your primary care doctor. Specialists can charge double or more than a primary care doctor for an office visit. Plus, you also will incur the additional first-time visit or consultation fee for your first visit to a specialist. A good primary care doctor can take care of most of your problems and can refer you to specialists only when needed. Using a specialist as your primary care doctor will add significant costs that may not be necessary.

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Use national laboratory groups for blood tests. Similar to how you can take a drug prescription to the pharmacy of your choice, you can ask for a written lab order and take it to the lab of your choice. National laboratory groups, such as Quest and LabCorp, have significantly lower prices.

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Ask for copies of all lab and imaging results and keep a file that you take to all of your doctor visits. Not only does historical data help your doctor provide more comprehensive care, but you can avoid unnecessary duplicate tests.

Get your flu shots and other preventive shots. Know what vaccines are covered by your plan and get vaccinated accordingly. Talk to your doctor about what safe and effective vaccines will help you avoid the cost of a serious illness later.

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Avoid the ER. Studies show that more than 25 pecent of ER visits are non-urgent and should be taken care of in other facilities. An ER visit can easily cost you $1,000 more than a visit to a primary care doctor. In the case of an emergency, never hesitate to go to the ER immediately, but for non-urgent care, go to your primary care doctor or consider your local urgent care clinic.

Identify your closest urgent care clinic. Urgent care and walk-in clinics provide a convenient, low-cost alternative for non-emergency care after hours and on weekends. Plan ahead and identify the urgent care clinics nearest to your home. When you can’t get in to see your primary care doctor, an urgent care clinic can be the most affordable way to get care.

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Use Castlight. Castlight is an excellent resource to help you find the highest quality affordable care for your given situation. In fact, using Castlight is the easiest way for you to take advantage of all of the suggestions above!

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