Transparent Pricing: Make Costs Clear to Enhance Care

Despite the vital significance of health and wellness in patients’ lives, evidence is proving that in the modern economic environment, one of the biggest decision-making factors people face regarding healthcare and treatment is not medically motivated – it’s financial.

Research from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that visits to the doctor by U.S. patients fell 4.7 percent from 2010 to 2011. The number of prescriptions issued declined by 1.1 percent. The reason? Patients are cutting back on healthcare spending due to financial hardship.

A contrasting indicator of why that decreased care is so detrimental can be found in the same research: emergency room visits increased 7.4 percent in 2011.

It’s important for providers to acknowledge that, for better or worse, patients today are making fiscally motivated healthcare decisions. Additionally, adapting to this cost-driven healthcare environment can prove beneficial for both doctors and their patients.

Leading the Way in Cost Clarity
Influencers are emerging that already embrace this financial approach to care.

“Now that it’s no longer a given that insurance simply will cover the bulk of the care they receive, patients also are taking responsibility for seeking value in healthcare, and they increasingly have more tools to do so,” writes Debra Beaulieu of Fierce Practice Management.

Castlight Health, a healthcare IT startup that’s made major headlines of late, was founded to help consumers find better quality care at a lower price. The company seeks to “cast light” on health care pricing – an area where too little transparency currently exists – in part to aid employers and patients with high-deductible health plans.

Even insurance companies are getting in on the price-illumination idea. Cigna offers online cost-searching features to consumers, as well as tools that enable users to estimate the differing costs associated with obtaining a procedure at one hospital versus another.

A Shifting Mentality Toward Health Expenses
Treating patients as consumers is a touchy subject among some in the healthcare industry, but this trend could prove to be incredibly positive. Experts cite the growth of cost comparing tools as part of an overall shift toward low-cost, value-based care.

Along with the increased attention being given to preventive care – a result of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, since it requires health plans to cover wellness exams at no charge to the insured – this push toward transparency in pricing is working to lower overall healthcare costs.

A recent Thomson Reuters report estimated that $36 billion could be saved annually if the 108 million Americans with employer coverage performed some healthcare “comparison shopping” on more than 300 common medical procedures.

Encourage Care with a Clear Approach to Costs
Providing your patients with clear pricing data can do more than help your practice contribute to lowering the costs of care: it can encourage better healthcare outcomes by making expectations more comprehensible.

Patients – especially those without insurance – are more likely to seek treatment or visit the doctor when they know what they might be in for financially. Even a patient who is covered may avoid the doctor if she has a high-deductible plan, health savings account, or tiered arrangement in which her employer only pays a specified percentage of the cost of a given procedure.

Consider adding a pricing page to your practice website. Demystifying this aspect of your business shows both existing and potential patients that you appreciate the costs they undertake for their health, and that there’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to medical expenses. That straightforward, accessible approach can give you a competitive advantage over practices that are less up-font about pricing.

Being candid about healthcare costs can also make it easier to collect from your patients. If your prices, along with common reimbursement rates, are clearly displayed or otherwise acknowledged in your office, it is much harder for your patients to claim they didn’t understand what they’d owe you and dodge their bills as a result.

Healthcare costs shouldn’t be a taboo topic at a doctor’s office. Transparent pricing has the power to improve outcomes, lower costs and grow your patient base – all while helping patients access to care with less concern.

Get comfortable with upfront pricing policies – for your patients’ sake and your practice’s success.

How do you address healthcare costs in your practice?

Want to learn how else you can improve your patients’ financial encounters with your practice? Click here.

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