• Article

Communication with physicians about health care costs Survey of an insured population

CONTEXT: Health care costs have increasingly shifted to patients, and financial distress caused by medical care has increased. Patients may wish to discuss costs with their clinicians.

OBJECTIVE: Describe patient preferences for communication about cost in the clinical setting.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional, self-administered survey of a stratified random sample of the population insured in an integrated health care system in Washington State. Our sampling frame was the entire membership aged 21 years or older. Sampling was stratified by sex and group practice enrollment.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Preference for discussing health care costs with one's physician. We conducted regression analyses to determine predictors of communication preference; potential predictors included demographic characteristics, financial burden, delay in seeking care because of cost, and socioeconomic variables. Survey responses were weighted to adjust for nonresponse and sampling.

RESULTS: Of 7200 invitations sent, 2200 survey responses were returned. Ninety-two percent wished to know their out-of-pocket costs before beginning treatment. Most respondents preferred their physician talk with them about out-of-pocket costs (81.4%) and expressed comfort with discussing costs with their physician (75.6%). Overall, 43.7% reported any delay in seeking care in the previous 12 months. One in 5 respondents (21.6%) reported family medical debt. Delay in seeking care was positively and independently associated with preferring to discuss costs with one's physician; current medical financial burden was not.

CONCLUSION: Patient preferences for communication about costs with physicians are high, and medical debt and delay in care-seeking are prevalent. Delay in care-seeking independently predicts cost communication preferences.


Henrikson, N. B., Chang, E., Ulrich, K., King, D., & Anderson, M. L. (2017). Communication with physicians about health care costs: Survey of an insured population. The Permanente journal, 21. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/16-070

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