According to MedCityNews, 2014 is the year of the health care consumer, and hospitals need to take note of the rise of consumer driven health care. Patients have become increasingly aware about the high costs of care, with more consumers choosing to showcase their enormous medical bills online. The bill of one consumer recently went viral on popular social sites imgur and Reddit, receiving tens of thousands of comments from users and making the front page of Reddit – which receives millions of views a day. These types of posts can be detrimental to health systems’ reputations, as users rarely black out the name of the hospital or medical center.

The cost of care is a hot topic in the media, and even though many hospitals can’t reduce their prices, low patient satisfaction and patient payments can have severe consequences for health systems. To improve patient collections as consumer-driven health care takes hold, hospitals need to give patients better information about the cost of care they are about to receive.

Post of high bill receives consumer outrage
The viral post in question showed the bill of a 20-year-old male named Nic who received an appendectomy in October. Although Nic’s personal responsibility was only approximately one-fifth of the $55,029.31 bill, Nic said in his post that some of the charges were ludicrous, such as $7,501.00 for being in the recovery room for about two hours. Nic wrote he was grateful that he had still been on his father’s insurance at the time, but the $11,119.53 – Nic’s personal responsibly for the bill – was still going to be hard for him to pay off.

Within just one month of being submitted on social sharing site imgur, Nic’s post had made it to Reddit, one of the most popular sites on the Internet, receiving 10,743 comments on the site. Many commenters advised Nic to fight the charges on all fronts, including the insurance company, as some of the charges were hundreds if not thousands of dollars above what they should have been. One commenter said “Consider this paperwork the first communication in a negotiation rather than just a bill. Be strong.”

Believe or not, these types of posts – and the consumer anger that comes afterwards – are all too common.

Sam Ho, chief medical officer and executive vice president at UnitedHealthcare as well as new chairman of the board for the eHealth Initiative, told Information Week that hospitals need to realize patients are becoming price sensitive.

“We’re forcing them, unwillingly in some cases, to accept more financial risk in return for their care,” Ho said.

But what could have prevented this bill from becoming an Internet sensation?

While there isn’t any indication that Nic was going to follow his fellow consumers’ advice, it’s imperative that hospitals take steps to give patients more information about care costs. If Nic’s hospital would have provided him with a cost estimation at the point-of-service, Nic might have had a better understanding of what his procedure was going to cost. Many hospitals are against providing cost estimations due to the complexity of care and billing, but providing patients information beforehand might be the difference in patient satisfaction. If Nic would have been told how much the surgery would cost and how much his bill might increase from additional care, would he have posted his bill? No one can really know the answer, but giving patients care estimations can result in patients being happier with their care – and keeping their high bills off the Internet – instead of fighting their bills.