- Cost matters to patients just as much as a doctor's reputation when choosing where to get care, according to a new VisitPay report on how consumers seek and pay for health services.
- In an online survey of 1,734 U.S. adults, insurance was the top consideration in choosing where to receive treatment (84%), followed by reputation of the health system (75%) and location (69%). Cost and physician reputation tied at 66% each.
- When assessing overall satisfaction with a doctor or health system, 65% of respondents said cost was a major influence.
With rising insurance premiums and deductibles and higher out-of-pocket costs, more consumers are struggling to pay for medical care. The report cites CNBC data showing 68% of patients with bills totaling $500 or less failed to pay off the full balance in 2016, up from 53% the previous year. That share is expected to reach 95% by 2020.
Of those surveyed by VisitPay, 60% were treated at an urgent clinic or emergency room within the past 12 months and 50% were treated at a hospital. More than half (56%) of respondents said the care they received was unplanned.
The report comes as CMS is working to increase price transparency. Last year, the agency finalized a rule requiring hospitals to post chargemaster rates online in a machine-readable format. The agency has received some flack over the mandate, however, as hospitals were already required to disclose those prices, and CMS has no way of enforcing the rule.
More recently, CMS launched an app showing Medicare beneficiaries what medical items and services their plans cover. The app also offers current information on doctors and hospitals and lets people connect claims data to digital tools that explain how to use and share their health data.
In the VisitPay survey, 41% of adults said rising costs would strongly influence their decision or ability to seek medical care. Those not influenced tended to be older Americans covered by Medicare.
There appears to be a disconnect, however, between consumers' concerns about rising costs and their interest in shopping around for care. Despite cost having a big impact on overall satisfaction, 67% of respondents reported they did not obtain a cost estimate before receiving care, the report found.
But if consumers aren't making the inquiries, health systems aren't being as transparent as they could about the costs of medical care. More than half of systems (57%) admitted not offering information about costs and payment options before patients underwent treatment or a procedure.
When it comes to hearing about payment plans, results were mixed. While a number of respondents said they prefer to learn about this in their statement, others felt their doctor should tell explain this or provide a brochure with the information, or someone from the health system should give them a call.
"With higher healthcare costs, larger deductibles and increased OOP expenses, consumers are making a large monetary investment in their health," the report says. "Thus, they desire greater transparency."
While most consumers prefer to pay their medical bills online via their bank account or the hospital's website, 14% said they would pay by phone, if available. Adding the convenience of digital payment options, including smartphones and tablets, could be one way to increase patient satisfaction, according to the report.