Price Transparency

About a year ago, I shared details of my own out of pocket medical expenses and concluded that we have to have to be more transparent with our patients (and potential patients) about the costs they will face for our services. The urgency of price transparency as a business imperative and a professional responsibility has only increased since then.

Consider that we are now a year in to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Everything that I have read suggests that consumers were intensely price sensitive when it came to choosing which plans they elected. Well, duh! The benefits are defined by “metal” levels (e.g., Bronze, Silver, etc.), and there is almost no way for people to compare the quality of competing narrow networks or individual providers, so price differences drove decision-making. Likewise, the healthy people who bought insurance because they were compelled to by the individual mandate generally chose high deductible plans to minimize their monthly payments. This, in turn, makes them much more price sensitive at the point of care. That means that patients may resist recommended treatment. It also means that physician offices will face more challenges in collecting fees from patients who have not yet met their deductible for the year. At the very least, patients will be more interested in learning what costs they will be exposed to.

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Engaging Patients

Patient satisfaction is hot. Major payers, including the federal government have linked hospital payment to institutional performance on patient surveys of their experience with care, and are poised to do the same with physician payments. There is a proliferation of commercial websites for patients to offer up their reviews of physicians and to check out the ratings already there. An entire industry of consultants has appeared to help institutions improve how patients experience the care they provide. Hospitals and health systems, including our own, have hired Chief Experience Officers. Continue reading

Health Numeracy

There is a growing awareness of the importance of health literacy – the extent to which patients and their families are able to understand words we speak and the written materials we provide. This is a good thing, since there is very good evidence that patients who have a better understanding of their condition and recommended treatment feel better, adhere better to recommendations, enjoy better health outcomes and rate the experience of their care higher. Oh, and they also sue for malpractice less frequently. The problem for providers is that it is not easy to get this right. Continue reading

Physician Drug Testing

The New York Times reported last week on a ballot initiative in California that would mandate random routine drug and alcohol testing of physicians, and targeted testing after major adverse patient events. The full text of the proposal is available here.

Proponents of the measure (Proposition 46) highlight the danger posed by impaired physicians and the ubiquity of drug testing for other professionals such as airline pilots and public safety officers. Continue reading

Is there a doctor on-board?

I was recently on a commercial airline flight when I noticed a bit of a commotion across the aisle. Two flight attendants were responding to the situation, which was triggered when one of the passengers in that trio of seats reached over and started eating the food of her fellow traveler. They quickly moved “the victim” out of the way, and were struggling to manage “the perpetrator.” I overheard them agree that they were concerned about the medical condition of the passenger, and moments later, one of the flight attendants used the public address system to ask if there was a doctor on board. Continue reading

The Next Wave

I was traveling recently and, as I typically do, I bought a copy of Fast Company magazine to read on the plane. I don’t subscribe, but I find that it often has interesting articles on the intersection of technology and business. In the July/August issue, there was an article about GE and its CEO Jeff Immelt that I think has important parallels with the current transformation of healthcare delivery. Continue reading

More on Physician Autonomy

Last week, inspired by the Independence Day holiday, I wrote about the important distinction between independence and autonomy. I made the case that professional autonomy is not about each doctor doing as he pleases, but about physicians as a group taking responsibility for shaping medical practice.

I was pleasantly surprised over the holiday weekend when I came across a recent paper in Health Affairs that illustrates how effective physician leadership (autonomy) can reduce unnecessary practice variation (independence) and improve clinical care. The paper also reinforced some of my earlier thoughts about the central role that physicians must play in redesigning systems of care. Continue reading

Independence and Autonomy

With the approach of the 4th of July, I have had “independence” on my mind. In my professional role, I always have “autonomy” on my mind, since it is often at the top of the list of things that doctors care deeply about, and I have been kicking around how the two relate to one another.
Webster’s (OK, the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary) defines “independence” as “freedom from outside control or support” and offers up “self-sufficiency” and “self-reliance” as synonyms. “Autonomy” is defined as “the quality or state of being self-governing” and suggests “self-determination” among the synonyms. Continue reading

Looking for the Pony

There is an old gag about an intensely optimistic child whose bright outlook on life is so irrepressible that when he is presented with a room full of manure for Christmas, he screams with delight, convinced that there “must be pony in there someplace.” Continue reading

Recognizing Excellence

I am a big believer in celebrating success and recognizing excellence. I find that doing so motivates people to achieve even more, and it helps maintain a healthy sense of organizational optimism. I also believe that one of the keys to making this work is to set high standards, so that only truly high performers get the accolades. Continue reading