Docs must take the lead in helping patients compare costs

Doctors are warming to the idea of being better stewards of the resources they command, but still in the infancy of managing the many complexities related to costs of care, John Henning Schumann, M.D., an internal medicine physician in Tulsa, Oklahoma, suggested in a recent commentary for WBUR News.

Schumann recounted an experience with a fully insured patient who was outraged at the cost of a colonoscopy to debunk the theory that patients only care about healthcare costs when drawn from their own pockets.

"Unfortunately, there was no turning back," he wrote. "The damage had been done. Mrs. Sutton [my patient] made very clear to me that she'd never undergo a test that pricey again, even if insurance paid for it."

The incident took place years before high deductibles became nearly universal or any type of transparency tools existed to help physicians estimate the cost of care. What research has shown so far about shifting higher burdens to patients, however, is that consumers are still unlikely to use available data to shop around, but very apt to reduce or forego care altogether.

Whether patients are skimping on care based on principle, unaffordability or fear of the unknown, the onus is on healthcare providers to help advance the conversation, FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported. "The best conversations I have had with patients about costs are the discussions when I have taken the time to screen someone for the financial aspect of their healthcare," Reshma Gupta, M.D., internal medicine physician and director of the Teaching Value in Healthcare Learning Network, recently told MedPage Today

Cost-related communication is especially important surrounding prescription drugs and diagnostic testing. Currently, prescribing of effective, less expensive generic drugs is far lower than it could be, Schumann noted, but there are strategies practices can use to take better advantage of this opportunity for cost savings and improved medication adherence.

To learn more:
- read the commentary