Health care costs matter to patients, and we can do something about it

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High-value change #2: Stop ordering unnecessary lab work

Another high-value change to consider: Examine each laboratory test order to understand if the test results will really alter the care of a patient. Providers vary, and ordering lab tests to “make sure” can add up as financial expense.

Best practices from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other professional societies can help guide decision-making as we order lab tests. Think twice, for example, about whether every evaluation for preeclampsia requires a uric acid test, since ACOG does not endorse that as part of the diagnostic criteria. While a single uric acid test costs only $8.00 to $38.00 (according to Healthcare Bluebook), testing uric acid in many patients over the course of a year can add up to significant dollars.11

High-value change #3: Consider care redesign

In addition to seeking opportunities to use more cost-effective products and reduce the use of unnecessary tests, “care redesign” is an innovative way to provide high-quality care (and increased patient satisfaction) at a lower cost for both the health care system and the patient. A prime example of care redesign is using telehealth to enhance prenatal care.

Several health systems around the country are piloting and implementing remote blood pressure monitoring, app-based prenatal education, and telehealth visits to enhance prenatal care.12,13 Use of a home blood pressure monitor can reduce in-person visits for low-risk prenatal care and open up access for other patients. Additionally, allowing the patient to participate in her own care at home or work can eliminate drives to and waits in the office and reduce absence from work because of a doctor visit.

A systematic review of more than 60,000 women showed that low-risk women who attend 5 to 9 prenatal visits have the same outcomes as women who attend the standard schedule of 13 to 15 visits.14 Although patient satisfaction was higher with more visits, when a bidirectional app or a telehealth visit is offered as an option, then patient satisfaction is equivalent to that in the standard schedule group.12 So why not expand the choice for patients?

The challenge of teaching high-value care: Medical education responds

In a 2010 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Molly Cooke commented on medical education’s responsibility regarding cost consciousness in patient care, and she highlighted the importance of teaching medical students and residents about considering cost in treating patients.15 Similarly, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education asks residents to consider cost and stewardship of medical resources as one of its system-based practice competencies.16 In 2012, the Choosing Wisely campaign, initiated by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, asked specialty society members to identify tests or procedures commonly used in their field whose necessity should be questioned and discussed.17 ACOG and other women’s health specialty societies participate in this campaign.

From an educational standpoint, ACOG’s Council on Resident Education in Obstetrics and Gynecology has developed a curriculum resource, “Cases in High Value Care,” that can be used by any women’s health department to start the conversation on high-value care.18 The web program encourages medical students and residents to submit clinical vignettes that demonstrate examples of low- and high-value care. These cases can be used for discussion and debate and can serve as high-value care performance improvement projects in your own department.

Other useful publications are available outside the ObGyn specialty. Consider the Society of Hospital Medicine’s article series in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, “Choosing Wisely: Things We Do for No Reason”and “Choosing Wisely: Next Steps in Improving Healthcare Value.”19 The former focuses on discussing practices (tests, procedures, supplies, and prescriptions) that may be poorly supported by evidence or are part of standard practice even though other less expensive, higher-value alternatives may be available. The latter highlights perspective pieces that describe health care value initiatives relating to the practice of hospital medicine.

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