Many docs still reluctant to discuss cost of care with patients

By Matt Kuhrt

The rise in patients' out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare services and treatment has made it more important than ever for doctors to overcome their typical reticence about discussing cost of care.

A study published in Health Affairs looked at cost-of-care discussions using transcripts of conversations between doctors and patients regarding care plans for breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and depression. While the study does not quantify the frequency with which doctors dismiss concerns, its main author, Peter Ubel of Duke University, says there's clearly an unmet need for better conversations about cost.

What's more, doctors' reluctance to initiate these conversations appears to be widespread, according to Ubel, who describes feedback from physicians worried financial discussions "contaminate the doctor-patient relationship," Kaiser Health News reported.

That attitude has started to shift among physician leaders, partly in response to the challenges faced by newly insured patients who find their policies come with high deductibles, as FiercePracticeManagement has reported. If doctors learn to look for cues that patients may be under financial strain, they will be better equipped to help patients make smart decisions that benefit both their health and their wallet, says Ubel.

When physicians dismiss their patients' concerns about the cost of their treatment, according to the study, they generally tend either to ignore the concerns altogether or to offer stop-gap solutions that may help in the short term, but leave patients without a long-term strategy to pay for their treatment. Given the potential for patients to give up on their treatment if they find they can't afford it, a failure to discuss finances can have direct consequences on patient health, notes Kaiser Health News.

To learn more:
- read the article
- check out the study