Commentary

Hospital Marketers: Targeting Women In Wake Of Price Transparency

Any woman who’s tried to learn how much a surgery, test or procedure will cost for herself or a family member knows it’s almost impossible to shop for healthcare in America on price and quality. Increased regulation has fallen short of its promise to make it easier to determine what consumers pay.

But efforts continue: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently changed the rules about how hospitals must share pricing information. Starting Jan. 1, hospitals will be required to publish their standard charges on the internet.

Sounds great, especially considering PricewaterhouseCoopers recently reported that as patient healthcare costs increase, healthcare systems are experiencing declines in patient volumes.

But the new rule doesn’t help as much as it might seem. Charges must be listed in a machine-readable format, which is not necessarily a human-readable format, and there are no rules (yet) about naming the file or where it should be located online — whether that’s on a hospital’s main website, a secondary site or hosted on a separate online platform. Hospitals following the letter of the law can easily dodge following its spirit.

So how can a hospital make it easier for its female consumers, who do most of the healthcare shopping, to find price information?

Take a retail approach. Retail tactics don’t just boost new patient visits; they can also increase loyalty among current patients. And every good retailer knows it’s less expensive to retain a current customer than to earn a new one. 

Start by identifyingareas of increasing competition. Consumers are learning that services like lab tests, MRI or CT scans, and walk-in care cost less at independent centers. Adjust pricing for specific services to stay competitive in the market. 

Next, offerprice-quote tools. A hospital system in Oklahoma makes it easy for consumers to find out what procedures and services will cost. Shoppers love services that simplify tasks, whether they’re buying a blouse or shopping for a hospital. 

There’s also a place for money-back guarantees in healthcare. Becker’s Hospital Review reported on one health system’s efforts in this area: Patients can request a refund if they feel their care was unsatisfactory. The system’s CEO, David Feinberg, MD, reports that no one has tried to take advantage of the system, and that "Patients really don't want money back. They want us to recognize we did something wrong and make it right.” Sounds like basic good customer service, no matter the industry. 

Offer an easy-to-use online bill-pay portal. Medical bills are tough to understand. Show consumers exactly what their charges are, when they were incurred, and why they cost what they do. Women are looking for this information, and they’re more inclined to choose a hospital that offers it.

Offering bundled pricing for core services can be challenging to work out, but a boon for consumers shopping on price. When hospitals bundle physician, facility and anesthesia fees and present an exact cost (barring complications), consumers see what they’re getting for their money — and are more likely to stay in the system.

While some tactics can be lifted directly from the retail industry, others need to be modified to fit the complex healthcare market. But once you start thinking about selling healthcare services in retail terms, new avenues open up — and so do possibilities. 

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