In the emerging era of participatory health, fanned by the fiscal flames of the recession and increasing out-of-pocket costs, there’s an important communications component to consider: participatory health economics.

The chart illustrates why. Out-of-pocket health costs are steadily increasing for households. Thus, it is reasonable for health citizens to want to know how much health goods and services will cost them before they partake of the service — whether a prescription drug, a stay in rehab, a surgical procedure, or a course of chemo.

For some time, providers have had a difficult time effectively fulfilling this role. Thanks to the Patient Friendly Billing Project developed by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), providers have some guidance. The HFMA launched the Patient Friendly Billing Project eight years ago to help providers with revenue cycle management.

HFMA has written a statement that targets patients’ rights for early, transparent financial communications. HFMA’s objective is for patients to, “understand and prepare for their financial obligation at the earliest point possible in the care experience.”

Simply put, people want to know how much they’re expected to pay for health care before they incur the costs. By being transparent from the get-go, health citizens can sort out whether there is available financial assistance to care from Medicaid, non-profit organizations, drug companies, physicians (who may help structure a payment plan), among other sources of support for health care.

That sort of transparency benefits both patient and provider since both can plan for the payment stream – whatever the fiscal outcome.

People can also shop around for alternatives once they know the cost of a service.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: One of the constraints preventing some health citizens from paying providers is that one-third of physician practices do not accept credit cards as a source of payment, according to The Physician Office Credit-Card Acceptance Survey from SK&A Information Services conducted in April 2009.

SK&A suggests that a growing number of doctors is not accepting credit card payments because patients are adversely affected by high interest rates, maxed-out credit limits and a more challenging ability to qualify for credit.

The providers who are most likely to accept credit cards are plastic surgeons, 91% of whom take the cards, along with opthalmologists, bariatrics specialists, otolaryngologists, and dermatologists.

The least likely providers to accept credit cards include dialysis, geriatric medicine, nuclear medicine, and critical-care medicine.

It’s VISA and Mastercard that are most accepted in physician practices.

The personal health economics reality is that out-of-pocket costs are going up. Until Americans have access to a different sort of health system, this is reality for anyone receiving health services in the U.S. This scenario is accompanied by a picture of many Americans going bankrupt paying for health services.
Not to mention the precursor to bankruptcy: growing credit card debt for medical expenses, as discussed here in Health Populi in September 2008.