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November 17, 2020
David Burda
Consumerism Economics Innovation

Why We Need Patient Education to Unleash Healthcare Consumerism

One of my favorite expressions on social media is “today years old.” Posters use it to tell their followers in a self-effacing way they just learned something most everyone knows already. 

Something like: “I was today years old when I realized Dave Burda writes a killer weekly blog post for 4sight Health that everyone should read regularly.” (See what I did there?)

That expression jumped to mind as I was reading two recent surveys that asked patients and providers about healthcare price transparency. 

The Pioneer Institute conducted the first survey, and you can download the 26-page white paper that includes the survey results here

The Boston-based public policy research organization asked 500 adult residents of Massachusetts about their health insurance and how they choose a provider for their medical care. Here’s what they said:

  • 78 percent said they’ve never tried to find out the price of a healthcare service or medical procedure before getting it
  • 70 percent said they would like to know the price of a healthcare service or medical procedure before getting it
  • 69 percent said they didn’t know about or didn’t use their health plan’s cost estimator tool for comparing providers’ prices for services and procedures
  • 54 percent said they’ve never thought about trying to find out the price of a healthcare service or medical procedure before getting it

“The problem, as our survey demonstrates, is that consumers do not know they have a right to such information, and do not know how to go about obtaining it,” the report said. 

Waystar, the Louisville, Ky.-based revenue cycle management company, conducted the second survey, and you can download the results here.  

The results of all vendor surveys shockingly reveal that customers and prospects need or want what the vendors are selling, and the Waystar survey is no different. Still, there are a few numbers that are worth reporting here from the company’s survey of 153 provider executives.

  • 94 percent said they “agree” or “strongly agree” with the premise that patients have a right to know their out-of-pocket costs for a healthcare service or medical procedure before getting it
  • 72 percent said accuracy is the most important aspect in giving out-of-pocket cost estimates to patients
  • 60 percent said “avoiding patient confusion” is the biggest challenge in meeting CMS’ upcoming price transparency requirements for hospitals

“Some providers think the CMS mandate will help patients understand their bills, while others believe it will lead to greater patient confusion,” Waystar said.

When you put the results of the two surveys together, patients and providers each want what they have already but don’t know it. It’s like wanting frozen pizza for lunch and not seeing the frozen pizzas in your freezer when you open the freezer door. They’re right in front of you, boys! But I digress.

Patients say they want price transparency, but they already have that power. Providers say they want to be transparent about their prices, but they already have that power.  

The answer to this conundrum is patient education.

Everyone says patients need to become better healthcare consumers. And everyone says patients need price transparency to be better healthcare consumers.  So, let’s teach them how. Let’s teach them how to look up and compare prices. Let’s teach them how to ask for and obtain out-of-pocket cost estimates. Let’s give them the tools that they need to do both. Let’s show them how to use the tools. 

Employers need to teach their employees. Health plans need to teach their members. Providers need to teach their patients. High schools need to teach their students in consumer ed classes. 

You don’t want one of your employees, members or patients to say on Twitter that they were today years old when they learned that they can shop for a healthcare service or medical procedure just like you can shop for a car.

Thanks for reading.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay alive.   

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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