Wise Consumer Health Month: 4 Ways to Save Your Patients Money

Consistent with true American fashion, I am an expert consumer.  This morning I woke up, rubbed my eyes, stumbled into the kitchen to brew a cup of coffee and promptly flipped open my laptop and began browsing my favorite home decorating websites in search of the perfect coffee table.  Not even 7am and I am already contemplating a hundreds of dollars purchase.  An annual expense more costly than my dream coffee table for most Americans is medical care.

As nurse practitioners it is our responsibility to keep our patient's best interests in mind.  What better way to do this than help them save a few bucks?  Or, more likely hundreds to thousands of dollars in the case of health care.  February is Wise Consumer Health Month.  Here are a few ways we as providers can help our patients become wise consumers of health care, saving them money.

1. Familiarize Yourself With Costs at Your Clinic

When patients ask how much certain tests or procedures cost, I have no clue.  Is a head CT scan $800 or $2,000...I'm not quite sure.  My ignorance regarding costs of care does nothing to benefit my patients.  If they do not know how much something costs, they cannot make an informed decision as to if a particular aspect of their medical care is necessary.  Just like I weigh the value and cost of a piece of furniture in my living room decor search or decide if the allure of dining at the fancy restaurant rather than the taco truck down the street is worth breaking the bank, patients need to make similar informed decisions when paying for health care.  

Yes, insurance companies often foot a large portion of the bill for patient's medical care.  These costs, however eventually get passed back down to the patient in the form of larger premiums.  More and more individuals are choosing plans such as HSA based insurance plans where they essentially pay cash for medical care.  As a larger number of our patients pay out of pocket for their care, we need to be responsible for helping them cut medical costs.  Knowing the prices of tests and procedures at your workplace will help your patients make informed decisions about their cost of medical care.

2. Ask Yourself- Will This Change My Outcome

I have significantly decreased the number of influenza and strep tests this winter.  Why?  Often, these tests have no effect on the bottom line in the patient's treatment.  If you are treating a 5 year-old who's sister was diagnosed with the flu by nasal swab yesterday, you are going to assume this child is also suffering from a case of influenza regardless of the test results.  So save your patient some time and money and don't order an influenza test- it's not going to change anything.  If ordering a particular test won't change your treatment plan, forgo it saving your patients money.

3. Prescribe Generic

Despite the push from pharmaceutical representatives to prescribe new, branded drugs, prescribe them only when there is no available generic alternative.  Generic medications save patients massive amounts of dough.  Some antibiotics are even free at certain pharmacies (in an effort to lure patients into grocery store to purchase overpriced foods...).  Resist the force of the complimentary lunch and doughnut deliveries (perhaps drug companies are trying to turn us into diabetics too) from pharmaceutical companies peddling expensive pills and prescribe generic.  Your patients and your waistline will thank you.

4. Consider Conservative Treatment Options

Although I prescribe medications and order imaging studies all day long for my patients, when it comes to my own health I prefer conservative treatment options.  My suspicion is that many of my patients do as well, however they are often unaware their choices.  Perhaps a few physical therapy sessions will provide relief from back pain before ordering that expensive MRI.  Maybe dietary changes will be more effective and inexpensive in treating GERD than daily medications.  Talk to your patients about the range of treatment options available for their condition.  The most conservative is usually the safest and least expensive option.  

Keep wise consumerism in mind when providing care for their patients.  They will appreciate any effort you make in keeping their medical costs low.  How do you save your patients money?