Awareness, education keys to containing healthcare costs

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Published: August 6,2007

The increasing cost of healthcare is a continuing story that has employees, employers and providers looking for ways to keep these increases contained and as manageable as possible. All suggestions are welcome.

Ginger Lay says the Singing River Hospital System’s approach to controlling costs is education and customer service. She has been with the system, which operates hospitals in Pascagoula and Ocean Springs, eight years and serves as the director of managed care and revenue cycle.

A better understanding

“I don’t think people truly understand the costs behind healthcare and it helps when they have a better understanding,” she says. “We’re not seeing a lot of moves to cut costs — not in southern Mississippi and that’s good and bad. The good is that many new technologies are coming down the pike, but they cost a lot.”

The Singing River System is putting together a cost transparency that will be available to consumers within the next six to nine months. This list will be posted on the hospital’s Web site and will list the costs of procedures and care the hospitals provide. They are choosing to make this information available as Mississippi, unlike some states, has no law requiring this transparency.

“Singing River is very consumer conscious. A person can go online and see what a knee replacement will cost, and we can defend those costs,” Lay says. “That will be a major step in educating the general population on the costs of healthcare.”

There are other services made possible by modern technology that also help keep down costs by saving staff time spent on certain tasks. They include making payments online, communicating with patients about what they can expect their insurance companies to pay and pre-registration that fast tracks patients’ physical check in at the hospital.

“We communicate with patients by telephone before they come in. They’re at home where they have all their information,” Lay says. “It can take 10 minutes or so, and we think it’s well worth it. It actually saves time. We try to touch every patient coming into our system. People are eager to get that information.”

She thinks providing more education from employers to employees would also be helpful. “Employers can be open to providing wellness education and programs for employees about diabetes and smoking cessation,” she says. “For instance, with diabetes a lot of times employees are given a brochure on the subject and told to figure it out. I just attended a diabetes class with my husband that was really beneficial.”

Practicing healthy living is a cornerstone of lowering medical expenses and is one more and more employers are embracing. At Mississippi Blood Services, employees are participating through WellnessPlus, a program that is focused on awareness and making participation easy and fun. They are also working to increase participation in the annual flu shot campaign.

“It has been a great success,” says Kelly Scrivner, communications manager. “We’ve had it in place for almost a year. We believe we are making a positive difference in our employees, especially with respect to current risks of serious illness.”

Healthy approach

With 1,300 employees, Chevron Pascagoula Refinery has safety and health as core tenets, and demonstrated this belief through an employee-driven effort that resulted in the creation of a 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art wellness center on site.

Company spokesman Steve Renfro says the center is the pulse of the refinery’s health promotion efforts. “The Health Quest program uses an integrated approach to employee health and offers employees a variety of programs and services to meet a wide range of ever-changing objectives,” he says.

In addition to participating in wellness programs or practicing healthy living, individuals can take cost-cutting measures by requesting generic prescription drugs whenever possible or requesting an older brand name drug that may be up to 50% cheaper than the newer brand name drugs.

Health tip Web sites also suggest: not using a specialist for primary care; keeping track of medical expenses for tax filing purposes; contributing to health savings accounts; and, comparison shopping for insurance quotes.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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