On Jan. 1, 2021, new guidelines from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services went into effect requiring hospitals that operate in the United States to provide “clear, accessible pricing information” online for the services they provide. Hospitals have a choice in how they provide this information, and the experience varies widely from hospital to hospital, with some creating a user-friendly experience and others offering a lengthy spreadsheet driven by hospital codes.
This initiative can aid consumers in their decision-making processes, but, for many, it brings up more questions than answers. For example:
- What are the costs with my insurance?
- What is the hospital code for my procedure?
- Does this account for all of the costs post-procedure?
The consumer experience is entirely driven by the hospital’s execution of these guidelines. Your healthcare organization can use it to answer these questions, showcase your services and people, and drive increased brand loyalty.
Costs influence decision-making, but they aren’t the only factor
One of the key benefits of price transparency is for healthcare consumers to better understand the costs associated with their care and provide an easier way to shop around. While researchers have conducted scores of studies on patient decision-making, one constant these studies find is that cost is rarely the deciding factor in care. Other factors that play influential roles include:
- Quality of care
- Experience and skill of the provider and the organization
- Process of receiving care
- Care outcomes
To comply with the new regulations, most hospitals are currently offering only a basic level of price transparency, which is limited to lists of costs and codes presented in a lengthy spreadsheet. This can be confusing for the average consumer, and costs without any context or insurance information may lead to the consumer putting off their care. Adding to the complexity, the highest and lowest costs for the same treatment can vary greatly from one hospital to another (as much as 300% nationwide), leaving users to wonder how to use this pricing information in a meaningful way.
However, since pricing isn’t the only factor in healthcare decision-making, your organization can use this requirement to support a more holistic decision-making process by integrating costs into a larger consumer experience that marries pricing information with the bigger picture of care.
Meaningful price transparency can benefit your organization
Price transparency represents an opportunity for your organization’s providers to deepen their relationships with current and future patients beyond costs alone. Creating meaningful transparency allows your providers to offer deeper insights to patients and discover benefits of their own.
Benefit 1: Building trust with consumers
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By being open with healthcare consumers about pricing, your healthcare organization can demonstrate trustworthiness and transparent honesty, thus helping to build consumers’ confidence as they weigh their options. Additionally, showing related services or items that the consumer will likely need as part of their care allows your team to further show that you are serious about transparency, helping ensure that your users aren’t caught off-guard by additional needs.
Benefit 2: Showing value
You can strengthen your organization’s value proposition and show that your care teams are well worth the cost of care by providing key differentiators early on in your service-line content, such as:
- The expertise your providers bring to the table
- The advanced care your full team offers
- Treatment options that may be unavailable elsewhere
This can help differentiate your team from other providers in your service area, who likely will come across as less confident and/or more secretive about their costs in comparison. Taking advantage of the price transparency opportunity gives you a chance to prove to potential patients why your team stands out.
Benefit 3: Gaining conversions
By encouraging your users to contact your billing/financial team members for more detailed information than the online estimate, as well as for answers to common questions, your healthcare organization can help consumers feel more comfortable with pricing information and prompt appointment requests. You can also reinforce the relationship between hospital and patient.
For smaller community and private organizations, particularly those with unique expertise or treatment offerings, price transparency tools can help more patients uncover the value and experience your hospital offers, driving greater awareness and appointments. For larger, well-known institutions, creating a price transparency experience that offers a glimpse into the greater organization is critical — not only are competitive organizations adopting this model, but for your hospital, it offers an opportunity to show the value, resources, and expertise that the organization as a whole brings to each and every patient.
Pricing wizards and interactive experiences support consumers
Since pricing is only one tool in the consumer’s healthcare decision-making arsenal, hospitals have a unique opportunity to support patients through price transparency. While many are relying on lengthy spreadsheets to simply make costs available, some organizations are supporting the patient decision-making process through easy-to-use interactive tools. Common themes these tools embrace include:
- Speaking with empathy: Make sure the user knows you understand why they would want to know the cost of their care.
- Write for search engines: Following search-engine optimization (SEO) best practices, just like with other high-priority content, ensures that your pricing tools are discoverable and accessible
- Make it simple: Give users the tools to find a cost estimate easily and quickly.
- Provide an easier alternative: Clearly explain the limitations of online cost-estimation tools (based on users’ unique insurance coverages or lack thereof, additional services they may require, etc.), emphasize that your billing and payment team members can provide more accurate information, and encourage them to call or email for help.
The message forward-thinking organizations are sending to patients is simple: We understand costs are an important part of your healthcare journey, and we’re making them even more accessible for you. This does more than simply comply with the CMS guidelines; it is a trust-builder — showcasing the hospital’s role as a trusted partner both financially and clinically.
The future of price transparency: Costs in context
Making costs accessible is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what your organization can do to help support overall decision-making related to care. If pricing is just one factor, your team can take the next step by offering costs in the context of the complete picture of care:
- Consider whether to integrate pricing tools throughout service-line pages. This can help consumers understand potential costs while exploring the hospital’s staff, experience and reputation. Pairing pricing with the value your organization brings will help patients see these costs in a big-picture context.
- Create an equal experience for current patients and guests, ensuring that future patients have the same ease of use of your tools. This also helps your organization take an early opportunity to build trust with potential patients.
- Think about other variables important to the patient: pre-and post-treatment guidance, facility amenities, community partners where they can access further care closer to home (physical therapy, for example), and patient stories. Consider how your organization’s mission fits into the concept of price transparency and use that to help tell the story.
- Finally, dust off your patient journey maps and understand where and how cost considerations fit into the journey. Use that to guide where you can integrate pricing on your website, in conversations with hospital staff members, and ancillary materials such as brochures and PDFs.
The price transparency guidelines allow your organization to rethink how costs influence healthcare consumers’ decision-making among the myriad other factors at play. By making the experience easy, meaningful, and patient-centric, you can go above and beyond the guidelines and drive loyalty through a supportive service that helps consumers make better decisions for their care.
Our Digital Healthcare Strategy team helps healthcare organizations create effective price transparency experiences to support patient decision-making and drive brand loyalty. Contact us today for more information.