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Tips for Doctors and Healthcare Providers on Talking Money with Patients

5 tips for doctors to talk about money with their patients

1. Invite cost conversations. Assume cost is on everyone’s mind, and that patients are waiting for you to raise the subject. Even if you don’t know the answer, let your patients know you’re willing to try and figure it out. They may feel they need your permission to share their questions or concerns.

2. Don’t let fear of time-sucking conversations keep you from meeting your patients’ needs. These talks do not need to take a lot of time; in fact, the average cost conversation takes less than two minutes. That small investment can go a long way in building trust with your patients, and help you understand how to give them the best possible care. 

3. Resources exist. Discussion guides and conversation starters offer simple strategies. Start with a question: “Do you have any concerns about the cost of this treatment?” Or “Is the cost of this procedure or medication going to keep you from getting it?” 

4. Remember, you don’t need to know all the answers. There is no way you could know the cost of each service or medication for every patient. But just being willing to discuss costs openly can help. Offering to figure it out together, or connecting them with a financial counselor or social worker, may be enough.

5. Consider the harm that costs can do to your patients. If costs are a barrier, patients are less likely to follow your treatment plan. Their health — and their families’ health — may suffer. Remember they may not tell you about their financial struggles — unless you ask.

Deborah D. Gordon, a former health insurance executive, is author of The Health Care Consumer’s Manifesto: How to Get the Most for Your Money (Praeger, 2020).