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Cars, Wonton Soup and Healthcare: What can they possibly have in common?

Won-ton-soupWhen someone says “price transparency,” what pops into your head? For me, it’s a Chinese menu. Your list of choices include the prices─often with pictures, too─so you can pick exactly what you want and know the cost of your wonton soup, General Tso chicken and green tea ice cream. Or you may think of a no-haggle car dealership that puts one sticker price on each car to eliminate negotiation.

Toward the end of 2015, I introduced two posts to address questions we frequently hear about improving financial health. This third post delves into a topic of increasing importance: price transparency.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 80 percent of women make healthcare decisions for their family. These decisions certainly involve costs; many households have tight budgets and numerous family members. Even in a rapidly changing world, some healthcare constants remain: kids get injuries from soccer, tennis, and just being kids. All of us unknowingly pass viruses to each other, whether it’s from sharing a jungle gym or a conference room table. These 80 percent of women (and let’s not forget the 20 percent of men) need to understand their households’ care costs.

While healthcare will never offer a Chinese menu or no-haggle sticker price, offering our own form of price transparency is important. These three steps can help you get there:

  1. Set clear guidelines about how to proactively and reactively approach price transparency. For instance, tell staff what to do at pre-service: Do you want them to automatically give patients a heads-up about their cost estimates during appointment reminder calls or just give estimates to those who ask for one?
  2. Train staff to follow these guidelines and understand you’re asking for a big change. Use exercises such as role-playing and brainstorming about typical scenarios.
  3. Leverage technology coupled with your new proactive processes. For instance, putting together a manual cost estimate can be time-consuming, difficult and even frustrating. If you’re asking staff be proactive when working with patients around costs, give them the right tools!

It will be challenging to define and implement your own appropriate version of price transparency but in the end, it will be rewarding. You’ll arm staff with the ability to help patients in an important way, and you’ll improve patients’ experience by helping them plan financially for their care. Don’t forget to check out part one and part two of this series to learn more on the questions we frequently hear about improving financial health.