With the rise in higher-deductible health plans and coinsurance, Americans are paying an ever-increasing proportion of their health care costs out of pocket. This means that consumer demand for meaningful price information will only continue to grow. To meet this demand, hospitals and systems must take a critical look at where they fall on the price transparency spectrum and improve how they communicate price information to patients and their communities.

In support of this effort, the American Hospital Association’s Community Connections initiative recently released “Achieving Price Transparency for Consumers: A Toolkit for Hospitals,” which is designed to spark conversation and action by allowing hospitals to assess their price transparency efforts and learn from others. The toolkit, available at www.ahacommunityconnections.org, includes: five steps to improve price transparency; a brief quiz to identify where your organization is doing well and where it may need to improve; case examples with contact information for follow-up; examples of Web-based tools used by hospitals, systems and state hospital associations; and a resource section with a collection of tools, documents and publications to support your efforts. It will be updated regularly as new information and resources become available.

Hospitals must prioritize price transparency to better understand what patients experience in their search for price information. Consider conducting a secret shopper exercise within your organization and creating the role of transparency ombudsman to coordinate activities. Technology cannot tell the entire story; price transparency requires training, scripting and direct communication.

Price information, however, should not be provided in a vacuum. Patients also deserve quality and safety data to help them make informed decisions. This information is important not only to patients, but to employers, insurers, physicians and providers as they all work to ensure that consumers receive the best-quality health care at the best value.

Bina Eggensperger (bina@blackfoot.net) is COG chair and a trustee of Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains, Mont.