To increase patient satisfaction, providers need to start talking about costs: survey

Stethoscope on top of five, ten, and twenty dollar bills.
Patients rated cost and the reputation of the physician as equally important when deciding where to receive treatment. (Getty Images/PLG)

Even as health systems confront rising healthcare costs and declining margins, they are under pressure to improve the patient experience, retain customer loyalty and collect patient payments.

But while two-thirds of patients said cost strongly influences their overall satisfaction with their hospital or physician, nearly 60% of health systems do not discuss costs with patients, according to a survey from VisitPay, a patient financial engagement platform.

The majority of patients (67%) did not obtain cost estimates before receiving medical treatment.

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The survey is based on responses from 1,734 adults about their financial experiences at a hospital, health system or urgent care center in the past year to assess healthcare consumption habits, financial behaviors within and outside of the healthcare industry, and factors that influence satisfaction with a health system.

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The survey found that emergency care is still in high demand, as 60% of respondents indicated they were treated for a health issue at an ER or urgent care clinic. The majority (56%) of patient visits are unplanned and not budgeted, according to the survey.

When choosing where to receive treatment, patients said they consider several factors. Among them: 

  • Respondents rated insurance (84%) as the most important factor and the reputation of a health system as the second most important (75%) factor.
  • Location was the third (69%) most important to patients, reflecting consumers’ strong interest in convenience.
  • Cost (66%) was rated equally as important as the reputation of the physician (66%) when deciding where to receive treatment. In addition, insurance is often a proxy for cost concerns, according to the survey.

One-third of patients said rising healthcare costs influence their ability or desire to seek necessary care, with younger, lower-income individuals the most influenced by rising costs. Those who were not influenced by rising healthcare costs were individuals 65 and older who are on Medicare.

Patients want to see health systems explain the financial and clinical aspects of care prior to treatment, according to the survey, citing their desire for someone from the health system to explain the payment plans in person or for health systems to provide a brochure with comprehensive information about their treatment and bill payment.

The majority of patients also prefer to pay online, either through their own bank accounts or via a hospital’s website.

According to the report, health systems can leverage data, analytics and behavioral segmentation—approaches used in other industries like eCommerce—to help alleviate confusion for the patient and improve the patient financial experience.

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