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Left Hanging on Price Transparency, 'Patients Will Vote with Their Legs'

Analysis  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   September 18, 2019

Nearly half of patients said having clear information on expected out-of-pocket costs before receiving treatment impacts their decision to use a healthcare provider.

Nearly two-thirds of patients (65%) said they'd be more willing to make at least a partial payment if they got an estimate at the time of their healthcare service, according to a new survey of patients from TransUnion Healthcare.

"Patients that don't understand their bills don't pay them," says Jonathan Wiik, principal of healthcare strategy at TransUnion Healthcare. "If the estimate isn't there, [providers are] relying on an envelope in the mail to have that conversation with the patient, and it just doesn't happen."

The message that health systems need to focus more on price transparency has morphed from a recommendation to a steady and relentless drumbeat that's growing ever-louder in the industry. Pressure is coming from all sides, including the government.

"This isn't a new thing," Wiik says. "Consumerism and transparency have been something that the market's been squawking about for, I'd say, no less than a decade."  

But now that drumbeat is reaching a crescendo, and this new survey of 2,500 of people who had visited a hospital, healthcare clinic, doctor's office or other healthcare organization for treatment in the last 12 months, should serve as yet another reminder of that.

It shows that consumers are increasingly making healthcare decisions based on cost.

"Patients will vote with their legs if they find a place that can engage them and have robust payment options, and pricing, and transparency, and access," Wiik says. "Even when you're shopping for other things…if one has a price and one does not that influences your decision."

Specifically, the survey finds that:

  • 62% of respondents said knowing their out-of-pocket expenses in advance of service impacts the likelihood of pursuing care
  • 49% said having clear information on expected out-of-pocket costs before receiving treatment impacts their decision to use a healthcare provider
  • 75% of patients use healthcare provider or payer/insurance websites, among other sources, to research healthcare costs. This is especially true of Gen Z and Millennials.

However, a report earlier this year showed that 12% percent of organizations offer no pricing transparency options at all, and only 10% offer price guarantees.

The survey also recognizes that patients don't make healthcare decisions in a bubble: It found that the state of the larger economy may also impact healthcare decisions.

More than 40% of those surveyed said the state of the economy affects how often they seek medical care. One in four patients said news of a weakening economy prompts them to use their existing health insurance for a checkup or other medical treatment they may have been putting off. 

"It's important that hospitals engage patients early, especially with the stuff that's going on with the economy," Wiik says.

Finally, John Yount, vice president of healthcare for TransUnion, notes that although 80% of patients were satisfied with the care they received, only 67% were satisfied with their financial experience. Financial savvy could give one health system the edge over another.  

"Patients are going to start making decisions based in their financial experience," he says.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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