Patients are becoming increasingly cost-conscious, but physicians aren’t comfortable talking about price.
A Duke University study of nearly 2,000 physician-patient conversations published in the journal Health Affairs found that when patients brought up costs during office visits, doctors deflected. Most reacted by either ignoring the patients’ financial concerns or offered short-term solutions, like a free sample.
Talking about costs can’t be any easier for patients. Those included in the study were being treated for breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and depression. They should be focusing on getting better rather than getting a discount.
But, it’s come to this nonetheless. Patients are now responsible for paying for a greater share of their health care costs of out of pocket, prompting them to become more discriminating. They’re thinking twice about tests, procedures and brand-name scripts. They want to know what’s covered and what’s not. They might even be reading the explanation of benefits.
This means doctors need to do a better job of acknowledging patients’ financial concerns and help counsel them through cost-based decisions, the authors of the study suggest.
“For consumer health care markets to work as intended, physicians need to be prepared to help patients navigate out-of-pocket expenses when financial concerns arise during clinical encounters,” they said. They’ll need training, because it’s unlikely financial counseling is part of the modern medical school curriculum.
Patients will need to learn how to talk price too, without forsaking their health. The shift from patient to healthcare shopper will not come easy. But it will come nonetheless. The winners will be those healthcare organizations and experts who accept that today’s trusted medical advisor is transparent and empathetic. This will take rigorous training, as well as content that helps facilitate and nurture patients along the way. Lean on owned channels, like websites and social media, to help inform and educate patients.
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