There are several facets of pricing information that hospitals should stay on top of.
Providing pricing information is just one aspect of improving price transparency—undermined by giving patients inaccurate or inconsistent prices.
To achieve greater price transparency and build trust with patients, hospitals must go beyond what is just required by the current regulations in place. That can mean providing uniform prices for the same services, regardless of how those prices are sought.
Since going into effect on January 1, 2021, the hospital price transparency rule requires each facility to provide a machine-readable file of standard charges for all items and services in a consumer-friendly display of shoppable services. Many hospitals are struggling to follow these requirements and as a result, the number of fines handed out by CMS for noncompliance continues to grow.
In the absence of more standardization being introduced in the law, hospitals need to take the initiative to button up and streamline pricing information themselves. Part of that is finding ways to have a user-friendly online display of services, allowing patients to access and decipher prices in an uncomplicated manner. CMS has tried to help by releasing three voluntary sample formats for hospitals to use.
Beyond just finding ways to present the data though, hospitals also need to find consistency in the information they're giving to patients.
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine by several universities and co-authored by Mark Cuban, hospitals may quote different prices for their services depending on where that information is obtained. The cross-sectional study of 60 hospitals used "secret shoppers" to find out prices for vaginal childbirth and brain MRI over the phone before comparing it to prices on the hospitals' websites. Researchers found that prices varied widely, suggesting a poor correlation between prices posted online and prices offered over the phone.
The research is another example of hospitals' issues with price transparency efforts, which can not only lead to patients choosing to seek care at another location, but potentially further push patients to retail experiences.
Innovating ways to offer clear, upfront pricing may still take time for providers, but there is low-hanging fruit right now for hospitals to clean up their price transparency. It just requires making it more of a priority than an afterthought.
Hospitals should even consider collaborating with other providers, Tina Barsallo, vice president of revenue cycle operations at Lifepoint Health, recently told HealthLeaders.
"If possible, pull a team together to create joint ownership and partnership in creation of the tools and to help drive consistency and compliance," Barsallo said. "Reach out to peers to brainstorm on ways they have accomplished compliance, so you don't need to reinvent the wheel. It is extremely helpful to collaborate with other providers and health systems."
Jay Asser is the contributing editor for strategy at HealthLeaders.
Improving price transparency for hospitals shouldn't only be about complying with the law, but also taking the initiative to give patients consistent and reliable prices, regardless of where they get it from.
Keeping the public properly informed about prices can help retain patients and attract new ones as well.