If Doctors Can Share Procedure Costs, Why Don't Patients Ask?

Like any good marriage, there’s a very good chance that the partners view their finances quite differently. One partner might be a spender while the other is the saver. Seems we patients and our physicians operate in quite similar fashion. While physicians say that they are capable of letting us know the prices for their services, we often don’t ask how much something is going to cost us and we simply let such expenses funnel through our insurers and onto us or we bear the burden of most of the costs on our own.

There has been much consternation about the rising costs of healthcare, and some arguments made about the potential to lower costs for consumers if only we knew what we had to pay for something. This is how things work when buying a car or a house – we all try to get the best deal – unless you’re one of the fortunate few who can purchase whatever they wish without asking the price – “if you have to ask, it’s too expensive!”

In regard to healthcare, this doesn’t even seem to be a problem. Patients simply don’t think to ask for prices, or not that many patients do so. Only 25 percent of us inquire, while 75 percent of physicians offer to share pricing, according to a national Navicure survey.

A new survey was conducted by HIMSS Analytics, fielded in January 2017, shows that about 45 percent of patients had an annual household income of less than $61,000, 62 percent were 35 to 74 years old and 36 percent were millennials. Seventy-five percent of provider survey respondents were physicians or other healthcare providers, 12 percent were practice administrators and 8 percent were C-suite executives.

So then, accordingly, a vast majority of provider organizations (75 percent) said they could provide a cost estimate upon request, yet less than 25 percent of patients requested one on their last visit, according to a news release. Navicure reported that more than half (51 percent) of providers claim it takes an average patient more than three months to pay their full balance. However, only 18 percent of patients claim it took them longer than three months to pay their last balance.

HIMSS also found that credit card-on-file is patients' preferred payment method for charges of $200 or lessAdditional patient payment preferences are patient portal (18 percent), provider website (16 percent) and automated payment plans (9 percent), which is somewhat of a shame given the fact that several hundred thousand people in the US claim bankruptcy every year because of healthcare costs.

Providers view credit card on-file as the best way to improve patient collections because they likely see this as a way to receive payments immediately. Twenty percent view credit card on-file as the best way to reduce cost of collections (22 percent prefer online bill pay), 20 percent view credit card on-file as the best way to reduce patient days in accounts receivable, and 29 percent view credit card on-file as the best way to reduce bad debt and write-offs.

"Our study indicates strong patient interest in more convenient ways to understand and pay their bills. Ironically, patient demand is ahead of current hospital and practice adoption," Jim Denny, founder, president and CEO of Navicure, said in the release. "A new generation of tools are available to improve patient satisfaction and allow healthcare organizations to collect more, faster and at less cost."

This is insight into the financial health of patients, to say the least. If they asked about costs and were able to budget, perhaps they’d be less inclined to simply “charge it” without fear for the price when they need care.

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Scott Rupp

Contributor

Scott E. Rupp is a writer and an award-winning journalist focused on healthcare technology. He has worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor, and he currently manages his own agency, millerrupp. In addition to writing for a variety of publications, Scott also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.

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