By Tim Charles / Guest Column

Patients have always chosen where they receive care. Today’s high-deductible insurance policies have spurred patients to further engage in their health-related decisions.

Determining the best provider for unique circumstances means patients should weigh factors like cost against measures of quality and safety in an effort to pinpoint the best fit for their needs. This can be a complicated task. For this reason, it’s important for health care organizations, such as Mercy-Cedar Rapids, to be transparent so patients can easily shop for care.

What does “transparency” mean? When it comes to health care, transparency showcases quality and safety of services, service excellence and cost through easily understood avenues. Because quality, safety, excellence and cost are entwined, giving patients the clear tools they need to make informed decisions about their care is a fundamental need.

The best care resulting in the best health at the best price comprises the core of what you and I, as patients, value when choosing our health care providers. Mercy’s 2016 Quality Report, to be released soon, addresses those three core concepts, offering an explanation of Mercy’s measures throughout the year in comparison with local, state and national data when possible.

In this year’s Quality Report, readers will see key data-driven innovations occurring throughout Mercy Medical Center and MercyCare clinics. One such innovation, practice transformation, is strengthening efficiency at our family practice clinics. With the help of clinical scribes who take notes during exams, MercyCare providers have an opportunity to engage even more personally with their patients. This results in a comprehensive after-care summary, which patients may take home.

Since inception at 24 MercyCare clinics, data shows a 12 percent increase in patient satisfaction and an 11 percent increase in capacity. As Eastern Iowa, like so many parts of the state and nation, faces a shortage of family-care physicians, the increased patient access created by practice transformation is critical to improving population health.

Another innovation explored in the 2016 Quality Report is Mercy’s direct-to-employer telehealth initiative. In April of last year, Mercy partnered with Rockwell Collins to launch the first direct-to-employer telehealth clinic in the region.

Located on the company’s main campus, eligible Rockwell Collins employees can elect to visit the MercyCare telehealth clinic for minor ailments and, through use of high-definition video and computer-assisted diagnostic equipment, be connected immediately to a provider located within the Mercy medical home network. Utilizing the on-site telehealth option saves some employees between $30 and $80 per visit.

The clinic achieved 99 percent patient satisfaction within only a few months of opening. Employees spend less time out of their workplace and quickly start on the road to recovery, boosting productivity while saving money for both the company and employee. In today’s costly health care environment, value is critical for hospitals, businesses and patients, alike.

An infographic (http://bit.ly/1OMpx5p) on health care transparency released by Castlight Health noted the cost of health care is increasing for companies by eight percent annually, and without transparency, as much as $750 billion could be wasted.

As the burden of health insurance costs continue to weigh on businesses, high-deductible plans result in direct and immediate exposure to medical costs for employees. The same infographic reported 62 percent of personal bankruptcies have a medical reason. Health care organizations have an ethical responsibility to address these challenges.

At Mercy, we’ve adopted the Iowa Hospital Association’s (IHA) Iowa Hospital Principles for Transparency in support of price and quality transparency. Through the IHA website, www.ihaonline.org, patients can compare different hospital’s prices across various services.

Mercy also employs patient financial counselors available in-person, over the phone or online to help patients comprehensively understand the billing process. These advocates, coupled with an expansive billing and financial information section on www.mercycare.org, bolster a web of support designed to offer as much information and aid as possible. Simply put, care for the patient’s financial health is important to us, too.

Mercy’s sustained mission to service for all in the community is a direct result of devotion to quality care at a cost that is affordable. The publication of this year’s annual Quality Report is yet another tangible demonstration of this commitment.

I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions at tcharles@mercycare.org.

Tim Charles is president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.