Column | Patient Experience

Finding our way to meaningful price transparency

Column | Patient Experience

Finding our way to meaningful price transparency


When you can see your destination, but not the way to get there, it may take a while to realize you are lost.

About 15 years ago, while on a business trip, I went for a run in San Antonio, Texas. My goal that day was four to five miles. Long story short, I got lost. I could see the hotel in the distance, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. Each road I took twisted or turned in an unexpected direction. My quick run wound up becoming a 13-mile half marathon. And I was pretty wiped out for the rest of the day.

This August, while in Peoria, Ill., for an HFMA board retreat, I set out on another quick run, this one across and along the Illinois River. While returning to the hotel, I soon realized that the road I had chosen wasn’t right, even though I could see the hotel in the distance, just as in San Antonio years before. Rather than repeat my San Antonio experience, I pulled out my phone, opened the mapping app and figured out the most direct route. The result: A 4.5-mile run, just as I had planned. The difference: In Peoria, I had two things going for me. One, I used technology, which didn’t exist at the time of my San Antonio run, to chart a direct course to my destination. Two, I had the experience to know I should use the tools available to me rather than relying solely on instinct.

What does this have to do with healthcare finance? Well, it’s not unlike the state of our industry regarding price transparency and financial interactions with patients. Meaningful price transparency appears elusive. Although we can visualize it, we can’t seem to get there from here. We know posting charges on a website won’t get us where we want to go. Our destination is a patient financial experience that includes out-of-pocket estimates prior to service; clear, understandable patient statements and no surprises in the billing process.

Consumers want to be treated in a reasonable way — the way we like to be treated everywhere we shop. Although we can picture the destination, many of us struggle with how to get there. We may improvise and lack confidence in our process. We may end up turning a four-mile run into a 13-mile run. Or worse, we may give up on the run altogether.

The thing is, we have the technology we need to reach our patient financial experience goals. And we have the experience to know how to use it. In Peoria, I had to be smart enough — and humble enough — to admit to myself that I was lost and use the available tools to reach my destination without wasting time and energy on the wrong roads. Likewise, in healthcare, we should use the IT that’s widely accessible now and rely on the collective experience embodied in HFMA’s Patient Financial Communications Best Practices to deploy it the right way.

An old proverb tells us, “No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.” If we leverage technology and draw on our collective experience to guide us, we can get on the right course much sooner.

About the Authors

Joseph J. Fifer, FHFMA, CPA

is President and CEO of HFMA.

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