In two article in the past week, and one of them written by a physician in the Wall Street Journal on September 4th , Healthcare and the $20,000 bill, WSJ op-ed September 4, 2014 , Eric Michael David, MD hospital prices came to the forefront. And it wasn’t alerting. That was followed by Molly Gamble in Becker’s Hospital Review with The easiest way to make a Hospital CEO squirm, Molly Gamble, Becker’s Hospital Review jumping off from the WSJ article with additional information.
The headline question is one that hospitals and health systems can no longer ignore with pejorative and condescending answers, or even silence to the questions of hospital prices. When physicians turn on those organizations it moves from a healthcare consumer complaint to PR crisis.
Hide the head in sand and pretend it’s all just going away, but guess what- it’s not. And it is maybe like one step away from a hospital or health system public relations crisis.
If you haven’t read the WSJ article, I recommend that you read it. It’s a classic example of how not to handle the pricing issue. Doesn’t matter if it’s a physician, the media or a healthcare consumer that is calling for they are all equally important.
Here is what an organization needs to do to be ready for the negative PR:
1. Admit one can’t win this argument. Develop, refine and have in place a media plan from the point of limiting the damage to your hospital brand and reputation as much as possible.
2. In preplanning understand the hospital or health system pricing compared to area competitors. Don’t compare to hospitals or health systems across the country.
3. Be prepared to explain up coding. Matter of fact this is probably a good time to start reviewing your coding and billing practices to make sure that all applicable regulations are being followed before you add some charges like the trauma team.
4. Don’t send out the billing manager or director of Finance out to answer media questions.
5. Prepare Q&As and practice.
6. Don’t answer it’s all the insurers fault. We don’t really charge those prices. The consumer will never understand because it’s so complicated.
7. Never ever reference the charge master.
8. When a clear billing mistake has been made, admit, rectify and apologize.
9. Have the CEO briefed, media trained and ready to face the press.
10. Answers to questions that come off as pejorative, condescending or arrogant are unacceptable.
11. Treat this as a full blown PR communications crisis. Failure to do so will lead to mistakes and making it worse not better.
Pray it doesn’t happen that the pricing issue is raised by someone who knows what they are talking about. The hospital or health system can’t win this one, but limit the damage to reputation and brand you can.