Is your practice ready for cost transparency?

Doug Koekkoek, M.D.
Chief medical officer, Oregon Region

Aug. 21, 2013

Do the names Castlight or Truven mean anything to you? If not, you might want to Google these companies and get yourself acquainted. Cost transparency is coming to health care – and it may affect your practice and patient volumes more than you think.

As more employers move to health savings accounts, patients are more sensitive to the costs of their health care choices. Until recently they had no real way to make cost-conscious decisions about which doctors to see or where their procedures and tests should be done.

Castlight Now, new online comparison tools from vendors such as Castlight Health, Truven Health Analytics and others lift the cover off health care pricing, providing total and out-of-pocket cost estimates on everything from a single primary care office visit to knee-replacement surgery.

Provider-specific quality data is posted alongside estimated costs for lab services, exams and procedures. Castlight, for instance, includes patient reviews and links to publicly reported performance results from Hospital Compare.

How do your charges stack up against other providers in the market?  Are your consult fees more or less than others in your specialty, and can you justify why they’re different? Should your patient have a procedure done in a hospital outpatient department or in an ambulatory surgery center? 

Until recently these conversations were rarely part of an office visit. But today, mobile devices allow patients to compare the cost of a given test or procedure at the moment the referral is being made. 

No longer will patient volumes be determined largely by how many health plans a provider accepts or relationships with referring PCPs. With this new transparency, patients themselves will become business drivers.

Our challenge will be to prove the value of what we provide at a cost that patients are willing to pay. As we get more details – including when these cost-transparency initiatives will be rolled out to Providence employees and Providence Health Plan members – we’ll share the information out through Pulse, medical staff demos and other medical staff communication channels.