By Michelle Niermann | Health Care Column

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, the number of individuals with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) has increased about 15 percent in the last decade. These plans allow individuals to pay lower insurance premiums but pay more out-of-pocket until their deductible is met.

With individuals spending more of their own dollars for health care, it’s opened the door (among other things) for the increase of health care consumerism, and organizations like UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids are working diligently to provide increased value for patients.

Health care has been slow to enter into the field of consumerism but in this rapidly evolving digital age, the health care industry is adapting and following in the footsteps of others – just as other industries seek to connect in new and meaningful ways with the “consumer.” In our health care world, that’s the patient and their family.

It’s not an entirely new concept for us. Health care providers at hospitals across the country have tried to be patient-centered in delivering evidence-based, multi-disciplinary, coordinated care. Some of the ways UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids is working to make things easier and more personal for our patients and their families is through price transparency. We are not alone in this move – all hospitals are doing this albeit in slightly different ways.

At the start of this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) started requiring hospitals to be more transparent regarding the cost of care. Hospitals must provide a listing of their current standard charges, including a description for the item or service associated with each charge, for every item and service provided by the hospital. CMS additionally requires hospitals to list their standard charges by Diagnosis-Related Group (DRGs).

We support the intent of these requirements and the need to educate patients on the cost of health care services. But we caution that these numbers do not represent what patients will owe after a hospital stay or other service because other factors come into play, like what insurance someone may or may not have. For a clearer, more accurate picture, most hospitals have financial coordinators speak with patients to counsel them on what they can expect to pay out-of-pocket based on their procedure or situation. They are also able to give cost estimates upon request. We encourage patients to take advantage of these resources and to also reach out to their insurance company.

Another example of health care consumerism is from the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009. This essentially introduced electronic health records (EHRs) and the use of them in a secure and meaningful way to improve the health of patients. It hasn’t always been a straight and easy road. It’s had its detours and potholes along the way but overall, it’s been a great piece of health care consumerism that benefits us all.

From our standpoint, EHRs connect the dots among your health care providers that you see and when you see them – providing a clearer picture of your overall care. It gives doctors an assist to remind you when it is time to see them for your annual physical, colonoscopy or mammogram. It also allows patients to reach out to their provider with questions and concerns, building and cementing relationships along the patient’s health care journey and life.

I think it’s safe to say we can expect the growth of health care consumerism to pick up at a rapid pace, especially as artificial intelligence (AI) is introduced in new and meaningful ways in all areas of our lives.

Michelle Niermann is president and CEO of UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids.