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UIHC improves transparency on hip-replacement costs

BY LAUREN COFFEY | FEBRUARY 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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A study focused on cost availability in the health-care system shows that the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics ranks very highly in transparency with patients.

The UIHC is among the top-ranked hospitals in the nation, and researchers found the hospital made the cost of one particular surgical procedure as forthcoming as possible.

“Most hospitals we had to call, and they would give us a price and then refer us to a physician for her or his price,” study conductor Jaime Rosenthal said. “The UIHC gave us a direct number.”

The study released Monday — conducted by JAMA Internal Medicine —looked at the difficulty patients and consumers face when looking at various prices for a hip replacement. Researchers at the UIHC and the Iowa City VA Medical Center conducted the study, which looked at 120 hospitals — both top-ranked and non-top-ranked.

UIHC spokesman Tom Moore said officials strive towards keeping the hospital as transparent as possible for the sake of the families and patients.

“[Transparency] is a work in progress,” he said. “In the last few years, we’ve made a real effort to provide information in a way that makes it understandable for the patients to provide an excellent service, but we’re not done yet.”

The hospital goes as far as providing advocates who are available to help patients and families understand the language in the health-care system. According to the study, however, acquiring the price for a surgery was not difficult for their “secret shopper” to do at the UIHC.

The study was conducted to find the transparency in hospitals regarding prices for surgical procedures rather than the quality of the institution.

“[Discussion of transparency is] in the government, it’s in Wall Street, and it’s also a buzzword in quality and pricing in the case of health care,” said Peter Cram, a co-conductor of the study and a UI associate professor of medicine. “There is a wealth of data to consumers who want to know about the quality: government websites and for-profit websites. We wanted to find out also about the transparency in pricing.”

Of the 120 hospitals Rosenthal surveyed, 60 percent of them gave definitive prices for their surgery. Although this is a higher success rate than a failure rate, the researchers were still not happy with the results.

“How can hospitals not know their price?” Cram said. “Would you use a cell-phone carrier who couldn’t give you any idea what your cell-phone bill would be every month?”

Mercy Iowa City, 500 E. Market St., even though not included in the study, is also committed to transparency. Officials said they also provide a phone number for patients to call in case they would need assistance understanding terms in the health-care system.

“I think the more transparent we are, the better off our country will be,” said Tim Ahlers, vice president of marketing and business development. “Whether it’s in pricing or in quality.”
Cram was not surprised at the high transparency rate from the UIHC.

“The University of Iowa has worked incredibly hard to help the customers,” he said. “I am very happy and proud [with the UIHC’s transparency success].”


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