3 ways physicians can address patients’ financial worries

Doctors need to talk to patients about the cost of everything from tests to prescription medications.

Just as doctors talk to patients about the pros and cons of treatment options, they need to be prepared to discuss the costs of care from tests to prescription medications.

When patients are hit with unexpected medical bills, they may become worried about the expense and stop making appointments, taking medications or following treatment plans, according to Managed Healthcare Executive.

Yet, doctors are often reluctant to initiate these financial conversations. Here are three ways to incorporate the topic into conversations with patients:

Take note of costs in the electronic health record. Physicians usually access the EHR during visits and will have information about prescription drugs and procedure costs at their fingertips, according to the report. At many doctors’ offices and hospitals, a routine part of doing business these days is estimating patients’ out-of-pocket payments, although some are engaging in the controversial practice of trying to collect payments to cover deductibles before treatment.

Ask patients questions that can help screen for financial problems. For instance, ask patients, “Do you want to talk about healthcare expenses?” recommends Peter Ubel, M.D., a professor of business administration and medicine at Duke University, in the article. If a patient is reluctant to have a procedure done because of worries about cost, you may use a deferral strategy for costly services that aren’t urgent. For instance, you can suggest putting off an MRI for pain that has only existed for a few days to see if the condition improves.

Be prepared to help patients find answers to their questions. Doctors can refer patients to resources such as Fair Health’s consumer website at FairHealthconsumer.org, which provides data on billed medical and dental services, according to the report. Insurance companies can also provide information to providers and patients about the costs of a particular procedure or medication.