Price transparency could lower costs in the ED

Price transparency can educate emergency department providers about the cost to patients when they undergo procedures--and, as a result, help hospitals address inefficiencies that drive up costs, conclude researchers from the University of California, San Francisco.

Reporting online in the journal PLOS ONE, the UC San Francisco researchers found the most expensive of the 10 most common conditions treated in EDs was kidney stones, with a median cost of $3,437. The least expensive common complaint to treat was an upper respiratory infection, at $740.

But costs varied widely from hospital to hospital, the study found. The cost of kidney stone treatment, for example, ranged from $2917 to $3877, the university notes in an announcement of its findings.

The issue of cost transparency is becoming a "hot topic" as the U.S. struggles with controlling healthcare costs, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports. Numerous state, federal and private programs are trying to address the issue, the organization notes.

The California researchers said their study "is not designed to evaluate the specific reasons behind the large charge variations we observed; previously cited causes for in-hospital care variation include clinical severity and between hospital differences due to factors including geographical differences, provider reimbursement variation, and health care monopolies," the researchers said.

"However, our analysis indicates for the first time that these and likely other inefficiencies exist in the acute care system and lead to unpredictability and wide variability of healthcare costs for patients," they continued. "These inefficiencies, if addressed, could help control healthcare costs in the emergency department."

Hospitals also could potentially reduce patient use of the ED for nonemergency ailments by letting patients know potential costs up front, the report said. Cost control will become more important for hospitals as coverage for Medicaid patients expands under the Affordable Care Act, the researchers report.

To learn more:
-here's the study
-read the UCSF announcement
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