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Do you talk to your doctor about cost of care?

BY Elizabeth Whittington
PUBLISHED July 08, 2013
Elizabeth whittington blog image
Cost is one of those "difficult conversations" between a patient and a physician, right up there with end-of-life discussions. Does that surprise you? An article posted online from the Journal of the American Medical Association addresses the issue of medical cost in "First, Do No (Financial) Harm." "... seemingly simple decisions that physicians make about testing could directly lead to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs," the authors write, noting that physicians shouldn't assume that high medical costs are a known and unavoidable fact of life for all patients. The article encourages physicians to optimize care for individual patients in regards to cost, a strategy used commonly to treat cancer. The article is geared toward a general medical audience, not specifically cancer, so the examples it provides may not apply. However, the overall theme is that physicians should have a financial conversation with their patients, including if patients are worried about cost and are understanding the financial ramifications of screening and treatment. "Too often physicians choose less than ideal options for their particular patients not due to a lack of caring, but rather a lack of knowing. This includes not prescribing generic or other insurance-covered drugs when appropriate. Lack of awareness about the opportunities to provide higher-value care should no longer be an allowable excuse." While the article is geared toward physicians having that financial conversation with their patients, this should also encourage patients to initiate the discussion. Asking for lower cost treatment alternatives, generics or making sure their doctor works within their insurance plan are conversations that patients shouldn't be ashamed to have with their physicians. At the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology this year, a study examined how likely insured patients were to talk to their physician about treatment cost. Nearly half of the 119 patients surveyed expressed a desire to discuss the issue, but only 21 percent had actually done so. Of that 21 percent, half felt the discussion helped lower their treatment costs. In another study of women with breast cancer, 94 percent believed cost should be discussed between patient and physician, but only 14 percent reported ever having the discussion. "To provide truly patient-centered care, physicians can live up to the mantra of 'First, do no harm' by not only caring for their patients' health, but also for their financial well-being," the authors conclude. Do you discuss cost with your physician? And does cost affect your treatment decisions? Stay tuned for more on this subject. CURE is producing a supplement on the cost of cancer care later this year, which will include tips and resources to help manage the financial burden of cancer.
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