Would a Simplified Doctors Bill Reduce Patient Confusion?


With increasing frequency, the trend toward healthcare provider “transparency” is in the news.

One vocal and prominent proponent of the concept is Dr. C. Martin Harris of the Cleveland Clinic, whose goal is improved transparency and patient access across our health care system.  Conceptually it sounds great, but would a better patient understanding of the financial aspects of their care (i.e. bills) influence their behaviors when selecting a care provider?

Dr. Harris is pushing for the development and utilization of patient-centric financial management tools that will expose the true costs associated with patient care.  Such tools could allow patients (consumers) to analyze their “actual” medical costs as well as their insurance coverage to help them better understand, in real-time what is owed for a given treatment.

Dr. Harris is shining a light on the patient confusion surrounding what to pay, who to pay and when to pay it. His view calls for a simplified system of transparent billing (the financial side of healthcare transactions) which “would clearly optimize the value of care to patients.”

Approaches such as specialized cards that initiate any healthcare-related transaction and then connect to online portals might be a starting point; and could even include connections to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) via its Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems (CAHPS®).   But will that be enough to entice consumers (patients) to gravitate toward a specific healthcare provider if they could deliver:

  • Better value (i.e., the same or better medical care for cheaper)
  • Enhanced customer service (i.e., overall patient experience), or
  • Improved medical outcomes?

These three post reform drivers seem to be reasonable predictors of consumer preference – however its less clear whether a consumer would compare two or more healthcare providers based on billing statement transparency (clarity) alone.

Provider billing transparency is for now likely a “nice-to-have” rather than “must have” component of patient experience – and without the urging of consumers or employers the solutions envisioned by Dr. Harris won’t likely emerge.   Rather, patient experience trends, improved outcomes and calculating value for healthcare dollars spent, will likely persist as the near term focus of vendors serving the healthcare provider market.

Let us know what you think.

Jamie Lockhart
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