Patients Overcome Health Care Cost Barriers

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Exercise trends come and go, every craze more unique than the previous one. In the 80s and 90s Jazzercise and aerobic tapes led women in neon leggings and sweatbands to fitness routines that could double as dance moves to Whitney Houston’s newest hits. As years went by work-out-fiends worked towards Buns of Steel, kicked butt in TaeBo, danced their ways to weight-loss with Zumba, awkwardly struggled through the Shake-Weight phenomenon, found peace with Yoga and Pilates, right up to the newest, and my personal favorite fitness fad (to watch); MUD RUNS.

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(photo courtesy of ToughMudder.com: http://toughmudder.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Tough-Mudder-Florida-2012-Saturday-Gudkov-2730.jpg)

You must overcome a number of physical and mental barriers when you commit to a healthier lifestyle, but that has never been truer and literal, than for those who commit to participating in tough-mudders. Now, I’ve seen some army boot camp movies in my time, and it seems that this workout trend is dangerously similar to the kind of punishment soldiers endure during times of rigorous training, so why someone would elect to participate in such an event is beyond me, but it has caught on like wildfire.

The health care writer in me draws parallels between almost everything I see and issues within the industry, so as I cheered on my friend who was participating in one of these muddy excuses for exercise, I couldn’t help but compare this harrowing process to what many patients face when attempting to navigate themselves through the health care system.

Common obstacles that patients face can range from not having health insurance, not being able to afford high costs and going without necessary care, fear and urgency and ultimately not understanding the perplexing language and nature of health care.  Let’s consider the path an uninsured patient in Florida faces for example when she discovers that she tweaked her knee in the tough-mudder she ran in last week.

Polly Patient needs an MRI of her knee to confirm that she has torn her meniscus again. She calls around to a few providers who leave her hanging like someone stuck on the monkey bars while she waits and waits for pricing, getting tug-o-warred back and forth between one hospital’s billing department and one practice’s scheduling office.  In cases like these, Bloomberg reported that 20% of patients, regardless of their age, asked their doctors for low cost treatments while 44% of patients will go online to research better options for their care.

The issue is that often times that there is not just one price for a specific procedure, though there could be, as Richard Meyer of The Tampa Bay Times points out. Say that Polly actually gets pricing or decides to just move forward with her appointment regardless of price transparency, she might have to pull herself up a giant hypothetical hill with a muddy rope and army crawl through mud trenches to get an appointment. Getting an MRI can be scary. You’re worried that something could be wrong with you, you’re not used to being at a hospital or doctor’s office and then, they stick you in a giant tube shooting radiation at you. Might as well crawl back into one of those tight-tunnels before the electric cord, spaghetti-hanging segment of the tough-mudder and stay there.

The difference between an experience like this and a positive patient experience comes down to patient education and providers helping those patients to become more conscious of quality, costs and the resources at their disposal.  In his article for The Atlantic, Peter Ubel points out that until we create a way for patients to be more conscious of the need to price shop and compare quality, transparency could potentially backfire.  Thanks to Jodie Tillman’s article from the patient’s perspective however, it is clear that patients are becoming much more savvy when it comes to consumerism in the health care process.

Price and quality transparency websites and patient resources for education aim to help patient consumers make smarter decisions so that at the end of the rat race, they have overcome the barriers and obstacles they faced and are standing, smiling with a trophy, not getting bopped in the face by a giant red ball… or overwhelming health care bills, if we’re speaking literally.

What navigating yourself through the health care process can feel like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45-W17ZdCS4