Is Transparency the Key to Fixing Healthcare?

With the information age in full force, modern consumers are used to having all the information. These consumers/patients expect a high level of transparency from their healthcare providers, and workers within the industry also need as much information as possible to do their jobs properly.

Fostering a culture of transparency in your healthcare environment, throughout internal and external interactions, might be just what your practice needs to encourage patient satisfaction, better care outcomes, and more rewarding interactions between patients and healthcare professionals.

Unfortunately, some practices are struggling to find the right balance between providing patients with the information they need to make good decisions, setting reasonable expectations, and meeting privacy laws and requirements. Additionally, the healthcare market simply doesn’t function like other consumer markets, making it difficult to provide complete up-front transparency—healthcare is not a one-size-fits-all commodity.

Still, the goal of achieving transparency in healthcare is important—one that must be approached strategically and carefully.

There are four main types of transparency that healthcare organizations will need to consider in the coming years. Evaluating your current level of transparency in each and seeking to improve your communications between healthcare professionals, both within your practice and outside of it, and with patients, will result in a better quality of healthcare throughout the industry.

Cost transparency

Providing detailed information about costs will be the most difficult aspect of transparency in healthcare. In fact, it may not be possible to provide complete transparency for the simple fact that treating patients is hardly predictable. While the basic costs for simple treatments, visits, co-pays, etc. can be established ahead of time, diagnosing a condition and effectively treating it is different for each patient, depending on the symptoms exhibited and the unique physiological makeup of the individual. There’s no one-size-fits-all diagnosis and treatment package for any illness. As such, perfect transparency is hardly possible. That being said, a clear and open dialogue between patients and healthcare providers, during each step of the way, with a clear statement of these facts—that costs can be unpredictable depending on the condition—can go a long way in clearing up any confusion and establishing trust.

Patient review/rating transparency

Another form of transparency comes in the form of publishing any internal patient review statistics or patient ratings. Practices can hardly stop a patient from going to any number of free rating websites that are available online, but often practices will also take internal surveys, the results of which remain tucked away for internal review only. Providing the details on these internal surveys can actually counteract some online review sites—because let’s be honest, leaving bad reviews is more popular than leaving good ones—and provide a more accurate portrait of a practice’s or hospital’s patient satisfaction levels. Of course, this will mean being honest about certain internal failures, but it also allows a practice to prove its willingness to address these issues proactively, instead of letting patient concerns go unaddressed. This information can also provide other hospitals and practices with benchmarks and points of comparison, allowing the industry to evolve as a whole to address larger patient issues.

Quality outcomes transparency

Another key area of information for many healthcare organizations revolves around their own internal studies of care quality or potential health risks. For instance, St. Luke’s Health System based in Boise, Idaho launched an initiative in 2011 that sought to eliminate hospital-acquired infections. The project was begun by Orthopedic surgeons who cooperated by sharing data in order to better understand any correlations between surgery infection rates and foot traffic in operating rooms. Such projects are invaluable within healthcare in order to institute better practices across all healthcare platforms. This type of transparency, which allows for data access between physicians and, once studies are complete, by patients, can open up a clear path for progress in eliminating unsafe practices and improving overall quality of care.

Transparency in testing and treatment

Encouraging transparency in the testing and treatment of patients is another way to promote credibility in healthcare. Many patients are often confused about why they are undergoing a particular test or treatment while providers aren’t always specific enough as to the reasons why. A more intentional explanation surrounding treatment plans and testing on the part of the provider, could go a long way in helping patients feel more involved and informed about their treatments.

Transparency in healthcare is no small initiative, especially in a competitive and high risk field like medicine. However, the potential benefits to patients and overall practice efficacy are numerous and undeniable. Again, there are challenges—particularly with relation to costs and setting appropriate expectations for patients—but they are not insurmountable. The healthcare industry as a whole stands to gain a great deal by simply being more open in its interactions and by sharing its valuable discoveries.