Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that transparency has become the new normal in healthcare. From core measures and HCAHPS to Leapfrog scores and Physician Compare, the average consumer now has unprecedented access to data. However, last month's release of hospital prices for more than 100 procedures has subjected providers to a new level of scrutiny. The data revealed huge variations in hospital charges for the same procedure, even among facilities located in the same market. While many hailed the effort as an important step toward truly consumer-driven healthcare, others were quick to accuse hospitals of price gouging.
As providers brace for a new wave of consumer interest in healthcare costs, establishing an open dialogue with patients and other stakeholders will be key to fostering trust and safeguarding reputation. Here are four tips for getting started.
Analyze your data, assemble your story - Hospitals not only have to know their pricing, they must be prepared to defend it. If your facility charges more for a hip replacement than the hospital across town, be prepared to explain why and what you're doing to make it better. Develop easy-to-understand messages that help consumers understand the difference between the "list price" and actual cost to the patient, as well as the availability of charity care and discounts for the uninsured.
Don't underestimate your employees - They can be your hospital's secret weapon in helping patients and the community understand this complex issue. Take the time to discuss price data with them, answer their questions and share your messaging. Be sure they are prepared to answer patient questions or simply tell your hospital's story to family and friends.
Be Proactive - While not every CEO will be comfortable issuing a public challenge for greater price transparency among competitors, discussing the issue openly with board members, community leaders and other key stakeholders will pay dividends as the public dialogue over healthcare costs continues. Hold informal meetings or consider inviting leaders to your facility for an educational breakfast that addresses this issue along with others.
Prepare for media scrutiny - Like it or not, healthcare pricing is a hot topic with media. Take the same approach to educating reporters on the issue as you do with employees and other stakeholders - explaining the nuances of healthcare reimbursement and telling your story. You don't have to engage in a back and forth but you can't hide forever.
Until our country works through the thorny issue of healthcare costs, the debate over hospital pricing isn't going away. While good communication won't solve the problem - it will help provide a much-needed broader perspective to a complex issue.
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