Becoming Cost-Empowered

The post “Want to cut healthcare costs? You might be on your own” by Ron Shinkman at Fierce HealthFinance caught my eye, as it relates to frustrations over health care costs.

Below is the response I left as a comment on the article:

Thank you for your article, which touches on many important issues. As a physician, the point that I can best speak to is the issue of patient education and empowerment.

I agree with your conclusion that we each are largely on our own, as we are for most things. Healthcare can be considered similar to any other service or product purchased in that it is best for the consumer to arm him or herself with enough information to make an educated decision.

As you state, it is a monumental task, as even the most motivated patient will find innumerable obstacles. Physicians are pressed for time. Medical care can be complex. Patient and physician expectations are often not aligned. Cost transparency is poor. Insurance coverage is complicated. Initial focus is (appropriately) directed toward safety and quality of care, but cost often receives inadequate attention by everyone involved. Each and every entity involved shares the blame.

Unfortunately there is not an easy system-wide fix for this predicament and we are left largely on our own.

If I were to offer advice it would be threefold:

  • First, when possible, try to find a healthcare provider who takes the extra time to give explanations and answer questions. I realize that provider choice is not always an option and sometimes there is not time to seek a second opinion, but do what you can to find an ally.
  • Second, learn as much as you can about issues that come up, whether related to symptoms, diagnosis, testing or treatment. It can be overwhelming depending on the situation, and information resources are scattered haphazardly, but self-education is more accessible than ever.
  • Third, ask “why” about everything. Why is the proposed diagnosis more likely than others? Why is this test being recommended? Why is this medication being preferred over other less-expensive options?

Let’s hope someday there will be processes in place to make it easier on all of us.

Stephen Meyers, MD


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