One of the many definitions in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for the word free is of no cost or charge. I used to say the only thing that is free is air. However, we pay for clean air through our taxes. Now, we may safely presume the only free thing in life is bad advice. Following through on that guidance will probably cost you something in the end.

During my 33 years in private practice, I have interacted with tens of thousands of patients and their family members, guardians, or caretakers while providing hearing health care. The great majority understand there is a cost to provide services or products. Still, a very small handful expect something for nothing.

There are costs to opening, operating, and maintaining a medical practice, hospital, manufacturing plant, senior living facility, retail store, auto repair shop, restaurant, financial institution, department store, grocery, governmental agency, etc. Those costs include, mortgage, leasing, rental, taxes, water, sewer, electric, gas, communications (telephone, fax, internet), merchandise, continual education or training of staff, maintenance, equipment, insurance, payroll, and more including the ability of that entity to make a profit to be viable in the community. The general public should be aware the aforementioned applies to every contact they make in their daily lives.

Some people dealing with governmental agencies and public and private businesses expect something for free or a general courtesy at no charge. It happens. But the public should be aware that every service and product has a cost…for the time, place, and materials required to meet their demands.

Over the years, I’ve encountered several situations where people mistakenly assume everything should be free:

  • One person attended a public complimentary informational seminar and made an office appointment for a complete evaluation. The person completed the intake form, provided copies of the primary insurance card for the chart, and signed a signature on file stating services would be provided, insurance billed, and copays due. The 30-minute initial appointment was elongated to more than 90 minutes due to a multitude of questions asked that required an enormous amount of information. At the conclusion of the visit, the person was appalled there was a charge for the office visit co-pay and that insurance would be billed, stating they thought everything was free.
  • Another person scheduled, rescheduled, and rescheduled again an appointment for an office visit and evaluation. Upon arrival, he was shocked that a cost for evaluation would be incurred and insurance billed. This was his response: “Audiologists always work for free, and the service is always at no charge.” This person was corrected and reminded that no medical office, medical facility, hospital, doctor (including myself), or other healthcare professional ever provides services for free. I asked about the last time he visited his family physician, specialist, or local hospital and if he had received anything for free. Then I asked him where he learned this mistaken concept. His reply: “It is always that way.” Needless to say, he left searching for someone, somewhere to give him professional medical services for free.
  • Still another person was under the assumption that, after the initial visit, procurement of professional medical services rendered and payment made by the insurance carrier, every appointment thereafter would be free.

When a medical professional or a professional business provides a service or product, one should never expect it for free. When that “free” item is expected by the recipient, the service or product is always perceived as not having any value because no cost is associated with it. In the case of a private practice audiologist, family physician, or other medical specialist, they are required to enroll, successfully complete coursework, and graduate with a doctorate requiring upwards of at least 10 years of full-time study and a practicum, while also pursuing and meeting the requirements for board certification, licensing, and ongoing continuing education—all at personal expense.

I and other medical professionals don’t know the meaning of a 40-hour workweek. This is one reason why we appreciate it when our patients understand that our services are not free.