The Cost of Consumerism

A well-dressed man steps up to the counter.

“Can I help you, sir?” asks the young clerk.

“Yes,” starts the customer. “I’ll have a knee replacement and a screening colonoscopy.”

“That’ll be $126,972, sir,” the cashier says. The customer pulls out his credit card and fulfills the transaction for medical care at his community hospital.

Seem a bit unrealistic? While health care hasn’t quite gone the way of retail stores, restaurants, or other service-focused industries, it is taking slow steps in that direction. With the growing availability of information on hospital quality and caregiver performance, it was only a matter of time until patients (or potential patients) use this information to make their healthcare decisions.

“With the advent of high-deductible healthcare plans, patients are more involved in their healthcare decisions than they’ve ever been,” says Gregory M. Snow, MPM, vice-president, revenue cycle at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania, who participated in a ground-breaking study, Consumerism in Health Care. “Because of this development, pricing transparency, quality of care, and service will all grow in importance over the next few years.”

QUALITY IN EFFECT

Gone are the days when a hospital could be marketed without mentioning JCAHO. Now, if you’re going to claim your hospital offers unparalleled cardiac care or makes sure every patient is 100-percent satisfied, you better have the research to prove it. With online resources and the array of accreditation and evaluation agencies, potential patients can scope out your hospital’s track record well before setting foot inside of the physical facility.

To entice patients to take advantage of this new power, the information is free and can be accessed in the comfort of their own homes. While quality information is currently more readily available than pricing, the two will have to merge for a complete picture of all aspects of a patient’s care. As you may have suspected, that day is today.

AVOIDING STICKER SHOCK

Ask any patient in the hospital if he wants to know how much a CT scan costs. He may raise an eyebrow at your question, but he’ll likely say yes. Soon, that same patient won’t only want to know how much a medical procedure costs; he’ll demand it. Of course, you don’t have to disclose the cost—but he also doesn’t have to choose your hospital. That’s the price transparency that consumerism in health care is bringing about.

Consider this if the idea of price transparency makes you a bit queasy. When you walk into a grocery store or outlet mall or log onto an online music service, you know how much your tomatoes, new outfit, and Jennifer Lopez single is going to cost. By making medical costs known upfront, patients are treated as customers, and they’re given the same information they would have access to at any retail store.

“You can sit there and say you’re not going to tell people what procedures cost, but you don’t really have a choice,” warns Snow. “This is going to be implemented in hospitals across the nation within the next two years, and if you’re not onboard, you’re going to lose patients and possibly be unable to keep your hospital financially sound.”

DRAWING THE LINE

The contrast is stark between the old days of medicine and the new ones. Now, patients often do their own research and don’t rely on their caregivers as their only link to medical knowledge. Soon, more hospitals, like those in Geisinger Health System, will begin coupling access to quality information with immediate and relevant pricing information. This leaves healthcare marketers with three aspects to promote: quality, service, and price.

“As consumerism continues to spread and gradually be the norm in the medical world, quality—not price—will rule the equation for consumers,” says Eric Silberman, business development professional at True North Custom Publishing. “When it comes to having blood work done, price may wholly drive the decision. However, when something like vascular surgery enters the picture, my expectation is that consumers won’t care what it costs. It will be the quality of care that is top of mind.”

Published in Custom Publishing Review: Healthcare.