• Alan Shoebridge

The most frustrating question in healthcare


Although the healthcare industry has made significant strides in providing a more consumer-focused experience in the past five years, one question that we still ask in almost all care settings shows how far we have to go.


Every time I get asked this question, my mood is a combination of (somewhat amusingly) frustrated and (somewhat annoyingly) bewildered. I also never, ever, ever know the right answer to the question.


Have you guessed what it is yet?


The question that vexes me every time is “What’s your co-pay?” Every time I’ve checked in for a physician appointment in the last 20 years, I’ve been asked that same question. And I always wonder why they don’t know and why they are asking me. Shouldn’t they know what their product costs? This question puts the burden on the patient and is just such a radical departure from how we pay for just about every other purchase in our lives.


What’s especially frustrating is that we’ve actually made some other real advances in billing and cost transparency. Prior to needing a procedure done recently and following the ubiquitous co-pay question, I received a phone call explaining my total expected charges and a follow-up summary in the mail. This was perfect and it was helpful to know what my financial contribution was going to be. However, I was left wondering why they could provide all of that information, but still struggled to tell me my co-pay for the first office visit. And I never found out. The front office staff debated between two figures and just charged me the lower amount with reassurance that they would bill me later if there was a discrepancy. Not a great system.


For all of us working to make a simpler, better patient experience for those we serve, let’s figure out a way to STOP asking this question.

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