When deciding whether or not to make a purchase in a store or online, knowing the price in advance is important for most people (I know a family with their own private jet, and I’m not including them here).
For the rest of us, buying airplane tickets, a new tablet or a car typically involves research on what it’s going to cost.
But what about healthcare? Most people do not know how much a physician visit, new medication or stay in the hospital will cost until after the fact.
That’s expected to change.
Consumer-driven healthcare is empowering more patients, especially those with high-deductible health plans. They’re going to want to control their medical expenses. This means, going forward, fewer people will likely just wait for the surprise charges when they receive an EOB or medical bill.
Tackling Cost Complexity
Just like it’s a good to know what medical information most patients search for online – because they to come to you with questions – it’s also good to know what they’re reading about cost of care. For example, the Healthcare Financial Management Association’s just issued a report “Understanding Healthcare Prices: A Consumer Guide” that aims to reduce a lot of the cost complexity for patients.
* Questions to ask your doctor before elective surgery
* Advice on how to get a cost estimate in advance
* Follow-up questions to ask when a medical bill comes in higher than the estimate
The panel of consumers, hospital executives and industry experts who wrote the report also explain the differences between in-network and out-of-network provider care; information sources for Medicare beneficiaries; and make recommendations for patients without health coverage.
Greater price transparency is likely another result of the empowered patient movement, but it might not be easy. During a local NPR radio report, a hospital CEO in South Florida promised to reveal the contracted prices negotiated for many services with major health insurers. He later had to retract the offer.
For price transparency to work, patients need to show it makes a difference in where they go for healthcare. Physicians, insurers and hospitals also have to do their part. Price information will be meaningful to patients when they can use it to make a fair comparison, the HFMA states.
Patients might ask you for:
* Total price of care
* What’s included in your estimate
* What’s not included, and why
Quality Matters Too
The report also emphasizes that it’s not all about price — quality of healthcare matters too. Specific advice includes recognizing that prices and quality can vary depending on where care is provided; that more expensive care does not always mean better care; and that “shopping around” can be worthwhile whenever possible.
How do you answer patient questions about the cost of a future service or procedure?