Friday, July 18, 2014

Should We Keep Patients in the Dark on Costs?

That seems to be the overwhelming opinion of folks interviewed for this recent News & Perspective from Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Citing everything from ignorance, to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, several clinicians in this vignette make the case discussions of cost have no role in Emergency Department care.  Victor Friedman, of the ACEP board of directors says costs are “irrelevant to me as a provider …. The billing and all that stuff comes later.”  Ellis Weeker from CEP America is concerned any discussion of costs might influence decisions regarding whether patients are seen, and potentially represent an EMTALA violation.

On the other hand, Neal Shah of Costs of Care points out there are real patient harms secondary to the financial burdens of healthcare, in no small part because of the astounding charges meted out from the Emergency Department.  While patients rarely see (or pay) the fantasy prices on the chargemaster, the burdens of even a fraction of these costs may mean choosing between food and insulin, or heat and clopidogrel.

If you’ve seen my writing to this effect, I fall squarely on the side of “costs should be communicated”, within reason.  I agree with Dr. Shah, that many Emergency Department interactions are “urgent” rather than “emergent”, and there is time to include costs as an adverse effect of a test or therapy.  I look forward to the communication instrument his team is developing.

“Price Transparency in the Emergency Department”
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196064414004211

1 comment:

  1. "First, do no harm."

    Is it harmful to patients and their families to load them up with overwhelming medical expenses that can cause bankruptcies? Is it harmful to do whatever it takes to extend the life of the elderly or terminally ill patient without disclosing the costs? Is this a form of defensive medicine performed because of the (mostly artificially-induced) fear of lawsuits, or is it related to hospital greed, or compassion? Is hiding the costs really compassionate or just an excuse to do more and charge more?

    I love these medical ethics debates but think the patient should be part of them.

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