Ready or Not, Tech-Savvy e-Patients are Coming

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media , May 25, 2010

Cryer, an attorney who is now CEO of CryerHealth, a Washington, DC, organization that advocates for patients' rights and to make healthcare more patient-centric, did finally find a physician that "gets" the patient of the future. The doctor works with her to solve problems, and discusses results and trends. She gives Cryer electronic copies of her medical information. She even gave Cryer her e-mail address. "It was like I discovered the Holy Grail," Cryer says.

Frankly, it shouldn't be that way. And soon, hospitals won't be able to do it that way … assuming they want to remain competitive and that they care about their patients.

For example, the demanding patient of the future isn't going to stand for the kind of telephone conversation I had yesterday with a health system billing department. When I asked if I could get a discount for paying cash up front for a procedure that's not covered by my insurance, instead of getting information I got a condescending little lecture about how lucky I am to have insurance at all and that paying for anything that's not covered is my responsibility. This despite the fact that several people within the organization told me that such discounts were routine.

(I wanted to ask the lecturer in the billing department what the organization's self-pay collection rates were, but resisted. I might send them the link to this month's magazine story by Senior Finance Editor Karen Minich-Pourshadi, Self-Pay and the Bottom Line: New approaches put patients back into POS collections.)

Like many patients would do, as soon as I hung up the phone I went straight to the organization's Web site. Not much help there—no estimates of how much the procedure would cost, and just a few vague lines stating that the hospital can help those who are uninsured or underinsured pay their bills. There was mention of interest-free payment plans. Gee, thanks. I could get the same from a furniture or appliance store—the difference is they'd tell me up front how much I'd be financing.

That inability to disseminate consistent, accurate information is a problem, Cryer says. "Communications, how you're greeted, patient throughput, everything matters," she says. "Information needs to be shared and not hoarded."

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