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Why you should avoid hiding medical pricing on your hospital website

Published at healthleadersmedia.com


If healthcare organizations are serious about future-proofing their business, they’ll need to embrace Human Understanding and truly hear from each of their customers. Consumers are the fastest-growing group of payers for healthcare services, and healthcare organizations need to look at new research to understand why they’re so frustrated with pricing transparency.

Ryan Donohue, thought leader in healthcare consumerism at NRC Health and co-author of Patient No Longer: Why Healthcare Must Deliver the Care Experience That Consumers Want and Expect, suggests that healthcare leaders should pay attention to shifting factors among their consumer base. Here are the research takeaways from NRC Health’s Market Insights study on price transparency—a study drawing on the largest consumer database of its kind in the United States, analyzing sentiment from more than 300 national markets.

Consumers want healthcare systems to engage and build trust with them as patients, and understand their stories. Therefore, Donohue says, organizations must humanize the element of price transparency and acknowledge that behind every bill is a patient, behind every patient is a person, and behind every person is a story.

“As soon as we give up our clothes and put on that gown, it’s like we give up control,” he says. “This psychology is so important to understand, because there’s another anxiety-producing issue to address after what you are being seen for—and that’s cost. It’s essential that we engage the consumer better in the future, that we build a relationship with them as a patient, that we have a human connection with the people we serve.”

NRC Health’s Market Insights study on price transparency reveals what consumers want most in a pricing tool:

  • Ability to see total cost, out-of-pocket fees, and what insurance contributes
  • Ability to compare out-of-pocket costs for different care options (e.g., urgent care vs. ER)
  • Ability to calculate out-of-pocket costs based on insurance type
  • Ability to contrast out-of-pocket costs for in-network and out-of-network providers

Addressing the Increase in Care Delay

Nationally, healthcare organizations are seeing delays in care, and not just because of COVID-19. In 2019, nearly a quarter of consumers deferred getting treatment. In 2020, that number skyrocketed: at one point, half the country was putting off care, and for the year, a record 33% of Americans delayed care.

The truth is, patients vote with their feet. COVID-19 placed a heavy financial burden on many consumers and wreaked havoc on their finances. While many people are now returning to standard care patterns, many are not—because of costs. The risks involved in having so many people opt out of care are as yet unmeasured, but the biggest problem with delayed care is that diagnoses don’t take days off as patients do.

Prioritizing Technology Efforts

Consumers want healthcare organizations to prioritize the modernization of a simple, fluid, user-friendly pricing tool on their websites to allow them to search, compare, and contrast pricing options.

The healthcare industry usually ranks technology as its top barrier to mastering price transparency, even though it agrees with consumers conceptually that it should share prices openly. The industry also sees, as consumers do, that cost has an impact on where patients go. Given that 70% of consumers feel that cost impacts where they go for healthcare and how they select care, it’s time for healthcare organizations to figure out the technology.

525% Returns on Patients When Feedback and Transparency Are Addressed

“As people come out of COVID-19, they’re going to try and shop healthcare, because they shop in every other facet of their life,” Donohue says. “And what are they going to find? I’m afraid they’re going to find a pre-COVID world of very, very difficult prices.” He advises healthcare organizations to start thinking, “Okay, the shoppers are coming, how do we deal with this? How can we be receptive to this? How do we show them that the world is different, and that healthcare is coming around on price?”

Meeting the needs of consumers starts with listening to what patients have to say. For example, when COVID-19 hit, OrthoNebraska faced an urgent need for telehealth services, which caused its leadership team to make difficult decisions about usability, experience design, and patient recruitment, all in a matter of weeks.

Using NRC Health’s Real-time Feedback and Transparency solutions, OrthoNebraska immediately saw a higher number of returns from patients—an increase of 525%—as well as increased usage of online appointments. OrthoNebraska also saw internal cultural changes, with increased organic coaching and leadership being more engaged with the data regularly.