According to the American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics, “Managing health care resources responsibly for the benefit of all patients is compatible with physicians’ primary obligation to serve the interests of individual patients.” In other words, doctors should consider the cost of treatment, and save their patients money when they can.
At a time of record health care costs — more than $28,000 for the typical U.S. family in 2018 — this isn’t just an issue of saving patients a few dollars here and there. When patients can’t afford to pay their health care bills, they’re more likely to delay seeking treatment. That delay can affect the outcome of eventual care.
Of course, as the AMA states, “Physicians’ primary ethical obligation is to promote the well-being of individual patients.” Sometimes that well-being hinges on cash or its lack. So how can general practitioners and other referring physicians limit the cost of care for their patients? Diagnostic imaging is a great place to start. The cost of imaging studies has grown faster than wages, overall inflation, and health care expense.
Luckily, doctors are pushing back against hospital pricing for these services. Here are a few ways referring physicians can provide excellent care for their patients without overspending on imaging studies:
- Involve patients in the decision to seek or omit imaging tests. When a patient presents with conditions that aren’t life threatening, doctors have significant leeway to work within the patient’s preferences. Often, this leads to fewer imaging studies, with associated savings. In a recent study, doctors who used shared decision-making tools with their patients ordered 7 percent fewer advanced imaging tests and 30 percent fewer standard imaging studies.
- Avoid ordering full-body scans to screen for tumors unless patients show symptoms. The American College of Preventive Medicine discourages the use of whole-body scanning to screen asymptomatic patients for tumors. They point out that no data suggests survival improvement for patients, and that less than 2 percent of asymptomatic patients screened had tumors.
- Choose imaging providers with upfront pricing, and share that information with patients. It shouldn’t be difficult to find pricing for imaging procedures before making a referral. If a provider conceals prices, choose another imaging clinic. With accurate pricing information in hand, physicians can work with patients to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of ordering a study.
- Refer patients to high-quality imaging clinics rather than relying on hospital radiology departments. As we’ve mentioned in this space before, an MRI from a freestanding independent imaging center is often thousands of dollars less than the same procedure at a hospital — even with the same doctors and the same equipment. Choosing a high-quality imaging provider that’s free from hospital pricing is the easiest way to save patients money on diagnostic tests.
- Take advantage of digital delivery of diagnostic images and radiology reports. Doctors and patients can access digital reports anywhere and at any time, leading to lower costs and greater access. Precise Imaging offers doctors digital access and 24/7 tech support through a dedicated physician’s portal.
With the ongoing public discussion of the U.S. health care system, awareness of the role of finances in treatment continues to rise. It’s time to have these discussions; as of 2013, only 36 percent of surveyed physicians believed they had a “major responsibility” to control care costs on their patients’ behalf.
But we know that affordability can translate into real-world effects on outcomes. Patient well-being and the costs of care are not two separate issues; they are bound together in complex, intractable ways. By choosing dedicated, patient-centered providers like Precise Imaging, doctors can get patients the services they need without unnecessarily adding to their burden of medical debt. Call us at 800-558-2223 or fill out our online form to make a referral today.
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