Most ER providers can't determine cost of treatment for typical visits

Fewer than four in 10 emergency medicine healthcare professionals on average can accurately estimate the cost of care for three conditions commonly treated in an emergency department (ED), a new study shows.

Conducted by researchers from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in East Lansing, the Internet-based survey asked emergency medicine healthcare professionals (including physicians, residents, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners) to identify the cost of care for these emergency department vignettes:

  • An obese 35-year-old woman with abdominal pain
  • A 57-year-old man with labored breathing and a history of congestive heart failure
  • A 7-year-old boy with a sore throat and no medical history

In no case did more than half of the 441 respondents determine the correct costs of care. Forty-three percent of respondents correctly estimated costs in the first case, followed by 40 percent of respondent in the third case. Less than one-third of respondents (32 percent) accurately estimated emergency department cost of treatment in the second case.

Researchers said the survey shows that emergency room healthcare professionals (HCPs) “continue to have an inadequate overall understanding of the cost of care in the ED.”

“Displaying the costs of diagnostic tests in the electronic health record and computerized physician order entry could be a useful way to educate HCPs,” the survey report suggests. “This strategy has been studied and showed a modest decrease in the rate of ordering tests whose cost was displayed.”

Overall, the researchers conclude, “These findings seem to indicate that improved understanding of cost would translate to decreased cost to both patients and the health care system overall to some degree.”

Results of the survey were published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

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