The Role of the Marketing Team in Hospital Price Transparency
After attending a Kansas City Healthcare Communicators Society (KCHCS) educational session, I began to think more about the role of marketers in hospital price transparency initiatives. Participants at the session joined in a lively discussion about consumer expectations for comparative data on healthcare costs. With many providers supporting price transparency, marketers are seeking additional resources to successfully communicate consumer-friendly information about hospital costs.
Launching a price transparency initiative in a hospital can seem overwhelming. This is due in large part to the fact that each patient’s healthcare needs are different, and cost structures related to testing and treatment can be complex – often with one or more third party payers – making out-of-pocket costs hard to understand for consumers. Hospitals, in particular, struggle to find the best way to share this information on a public platform. Below are five key takeaways to help hospital marketers take an active role in creating successful communication strategies for price transparency.
Take a lead role in interpreting cost information for consumers. If that doesn’t sound like a marketing function to you, think again. Just as they plan service line communication plans, marketers should be catalysts for collaboratively developing and implementing communication strategies for hospital transparency initiatives. Marketers have a much better understanding than their financial counterparts of consumer wants and needs. In addition, most have an innate ability to distil data—in this case, financial data—into information that is easy for consumers to understand.
Fortunately, some hospital marketers have already begun paving the way by presenting case studies on what works best when communicating hospital and healthcare price transparency. For example, HealthLeaders recently featured the launch of a new online price transparency tool at St. Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh. The groundbreaking tool allows patients to compare the cost of more than 100 different tests and procedures based on their specific insurance information. This is helpful for patients, and it allows St. Clair to establish a position regionally as an innovator in cost transparency.
Know and use existing resources. The American Hospital Association (AHA) has developed a resource called Achieving Price Transparency for Consumers: A Toolkit for Hospitals. The guide is designed to help hospitals evaluate their current efforts and provide samples of price tools currently being used by other health organizations. The AHA toolkit includes a Self-Assessment Checklist, which is an excellent starting point to help you understand which departments/personnel have likely roles in price communications. While many items on the checklist may not be within the purview of the marketing team, some fit the scope of work, which leads us to our next point…
Research the current consumer experience related to price inquires. Ask employees on the front lines (administrators and providers) how they usually address price inquiries. Get to know how the entire process is addressed operationally, from point of initial inquiry to the moment the final answer is conveyed. Audit the financial communications they provide. AHA also recommends placing a few “secret shopper calls” to document and analyze current performance and identify opportunities for improvement. With this type of information on hand, you will be better positioned to assist your organization by mapping out an action plan for improved responses and processes.
Support the financial staff’s ability to be consumer-focused. For consumers, healthcare costs can be difficult to understand. For hospitals and healthcare providers, price transparency involves as much of a cultural shift as it does an operational one, so this is a key opportunity for your marketing team to lead the process as both coach and catalyst. Take a proactive role in ensuring that all communication related to price is helpful, easy to understand and easy to access. You’ll need to take many different forms of communication into account: scripts for people who respond to price inquiries both by phone and in person, written materials, web content and apps, email communication, patient forms, and even the invoices should be examined and reformatted for clarity, consistency and ease of use. Establish and maintain open communication between the marketing team and the financial department so you know when updates need to be made to these communications.
Make appropriate recommendations for how your hospital can make price information more accessible. For example, AHA recommends offering multilingual communications if your service area includes ESL (English as a second language) communities, posting price information on your website and/or providing a customer-facing cost estimator tool, providing information to individuals as soon as possible upon request, and sharing price information with community health organizations.
The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) also offers a free resource specifically for consumers that you may wish to post on your hospital’s website. Understanding Healthcare Prices: A Consumer Guide educates patients about healthcare pricing in general (not specific to your hospital) so they understand how to obtain an accurate cost estimate. The guide is available in both English and Spanish.
The more transparent your hospital is – and the more helpful you are in providing clear, reliable price information – the more trusted your organization will be with consumers. As a marketer, you can help facilitate the delivery of cost information consumers want and need to make value-based decisions.