Need help talking to patients about cost? AEH launches new tools to help the conversation

When a patient signs in at a hospital or doctor's office, he or she may have some upfront questions about costs that front desk staff aren't ready for.

But, arming staffers with a conversation guide—including sample questions, a checklist of topics to cover and a selection of resources to provide to patients before they even meet a doctor—can alleviate that pain point and create a more open line of communication on the cost of care.

That's the goal of America’s Essential Hospitals’ Cost of Care Conversations tool, a newly launched digital library that complies various resources for patients and providers to get them talking about healthcare costs. Included in the online hub are workflow charts, training briefs, videos, handouts and a pocket card (PDF) that clinicians can use as a quick screen for patients who may struggle with cost burdens.

The tools were designed by a group of stakeholders convened by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with the goal of identifying evidence-based strategies to move the needle on these conversations. Deborah Roseman, a principal project specialist at AEH’s Essential Hospitals Institute, told FierceHealthcare that patients and providers both recognize that cost poses a major barrier to effective care, but they are also uncomfortable initiating these discussions.

“Taken together, [the tools] are really designed to address any discomfort they might have and address preconceived notions patients or providers might have about bringing up the topic of cost,” Roseman said.

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Surveying conducted as part of the project found that 70% of patients want to talk with their clinical team or other hospital staff, but just 28% bring up the issue.

Though AEH’s focus is sharing the library with its members, the collection is public and free, so outside providers can benefit as well. The materials are divided into six categories, some of which include specialized focus areas, like the impact of cost on maternity care.

For example, one brief (PDF) housed in the library, which was written by Avalere and RWJF, highlights the biggest barriers to conversations with patients about healthcare costs. The guide includes suggestions that encourage providers to hang signage that encourages patients to bring up the cost of care, and to offer resources to address issues that may compound cost concerns, like transportation.

“If a member hospital has a specific need caring for a given population, we wanted them to easily find those [resources],” Roseman said.

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The digital library will continue to expand in the coming months, Roseman said, as AEH’s team develops new ways to “zero in on” members’ needs and tailor resources accordingly.

Roseman said the next step for her team is to host a series of webinars and other outreach initiatives to get more member hospitals involved and gauge how to most effectively present the guides included in the library.