With today's economy forcing just about everyone to pinch pennies in increasingly creative ways, it's no surprise more people are forgoing the professionals and trying their hand at everything from car repair to lawyering. So which projects are worth the trouble, and which are best left to the pros? To find out, SmartMoney magazine took a look at America's latest adventures in DIY. This installment: health care.>
While people haven't> been reduced to setting their own bones or stitching their own wounds (not yet, anyway), many are trying to avoid a visit to their general practitioners. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 44 percent of respondents say that, because of cost, they're now relying on home remedies or over-the-counter drugs instead of seeing a doctor, up from 35 percent in February 2009.
And with the nearly $34 billion alternative-medicine market going increasingly mainstream, some consumers are turning to at-home techniques as a way to limit office visits and pricey prescriptions. Seminars and classes teaching DIY methods are cropping up across the country, and companies report that more people are trying options like homeopathic remedies. For instance, Boiron, one of the largest suppliers of these products, reported a 23 percent annual jump in sales at food and drug stores through September 2009.
Tamara Gonsor has used her 50-remedy homeopathic kit to treat her own sore throats and other maladies, but for the Phoenix-based bookkeeper, the real savings have come from playing doctor to Meghan -- well, playing vet, to be precise. A 5-year-old Australian shepherd, Meghan suffered from debilitating doggy allergies that left Gonsor saddled with nearly $500 a month in vet bills. But with the help of her homeopathy kit and some how-to books, Gonsor says Meghan is down to one $45 vet visit per year.
Cosmetic procedures are another area people are literally starting to take into their own hands. After booming for the past few years, demand for in-office beautification is dropping; the number of nonsurgical procedures fell more than 12 percent in 2008. At the same time, a slew of cosmetic devices have hit the market, all claiming to deliver doctor's-office-level technology for home use. The $449 Baby Quasar, for one, is meant to replace spa-based light therapy, which runs $100 to $150 per session to treat things like acne and seasonal affective disorder.
But whether such devices provide professional-level results is open to debate. Patricia Farris, a dermatologist from New Orleans, says making the products safe for home use will likely reduce their effectiveness. But her primary concern is that people who bypass the dermatologist might overlook an underlying medical condition. "Be sure you're not missing a diagnosis to save a nickel," she says.
With one child in college and three to go, Donna Phillips tries to keep spending down. But hair removal is one place the Sanford, N.C., nurse won't skimp. "You name it, I've tried it," says Phillips, including dropping $300 on a single laser-hair-removal treatment and attempting to sweet-talk her husband, a nephrologist, into buying a laser for his practice.
So when she came across the Tria, a DIY laser device, the idea of zapping those pesky follicles overcame any misgivings about at-home lasering. And so far, it's been a success, though Phillips does speculate that the product might actually end up putting some pros back to work. "I'm pretty sure there's a lawyer somewhere just waiting for someone to try it on her eyebrows," she says.
The New Do-It-Yourselfers: