New regulations around hospital service pricing may offer increased transparency, but could also confuse patients. Fortunately, hospitals can use digital marketing tools to give patients a better sense of what they’ll actually pay.
For a long time, patients in the United States have demanded increased transparency when it comes to what they’ll pay for a hospital visit. Recently, the Trump administration has responded with new rules that aim to stimulate competition amongst hospitals and provide greater options for patients.
The new regulation, entitled the “Inpatient Prospective Payment System Rule,” requires hospitals to post list prices for their services on the internet in a machine-readable format. Though hospitals must already make their pricing available in some form, the rule places new emphasis upon price transparency for consumers, going so far as to base Medicare reimbursements upon the quantity and quality of pricing information available.
On its face, transparent hospitals pricing seems like a good thing for consumers, allowing them to comparison-shop for services as they would in any other industry. However, medical providers rightfully have concerns about whether this information will actually help patients make informed decisions. Thanks to digital marketing, however, hospitals have tools at their disposal to educate patients about what their cost burdens will really be.
New Pricing Guidelines Could Be Confusing to Patients
Many doctors worry that the new price transparency regulations will confuse patients instead of helping them make decisions. After all, the vast majority of patients won’t pay the chargemaster price for a service; instead, they’ll pay the portion not covered by their insurance plan, which can vary widely depending on the plan provider and terms. Patients who can only see the chargemaster price may come away with the wrong information about which provider will be best for them.
It would be much more useful to instead provide patients with estimates of out-of-pocket (OOP) costs based on historical data and payer information. As of now, only 29% of healthcare providers intend to post additional pricing information beyond the requirements. However, as hospitals realize the benefits of providing context for the chargemaster numbers, more will almost certainly follow.
Communicating the True Price of Care with Digital Marketing
For hospitals looking to gain a competitive advantage with helpful pricing information, the question becomes how to propagate this information so patients will see it. However your hospital decides to disseminate pricing information, digital marketing can be a valuable tool in communicating messages about pricing to the right audiences.
First, we recommend that hospitals create a dedicated microsite or portal for service pricing information. The site should be simple and easy to navigate, with clear explanations about the meanings of different pricing structures.
The ability to price-compare hospitals will also lead to an influx of search queries about pricing. Take advantage of this by buying search ads for pricing-specific keywords – preferably “long tail” keywords that are relevant to your geographic area, service lines, or to a specific procedures you perform. For example, a keyword like “arthroscopic knee surgery cost in Calabasas” is much more likely to match up with patient queries than “ knee surgery cost.”
Social media ads also offer an opportunity to not only communicate pricing information, but also to educate patients on how they should be considering these important medical decisions. For instance, hospitals could create Facebook ads that lead to a landing page or microsite about deciphering service prices. It could distinguish between chargemaster and out-of-pocket costs and include a tool that would allow patients to estimate the true cost of a given procedure.
The new regulations for pricing transparency, though difficult for hospitals to navigate, can also present an opportunity to become a trusted resource for patients. With the right digital marketing tools, hospitals can get out in front of misinformation and give patients insight into how to make smart healthcare choices.