The Price is Right in the OR: Only Sometimes!

Rising healthcare costs are at the forefront of the national conscience.

Rising healthcare costs are at the forefront of the national conscience.

Currently, medical bills constitute the single largest reason Americans file for bankruptcy. Only a few studies have examined medical providers’ cost awareness when recommending treatments.

The May 2016 issue of The Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology had published a study demonstrating surgeons' understanding of the cost of implants and operating room (OR) supplies.

These researchers conducted a cross-sectional study, surveying 51 members of the Vanderbilt Department of Otolaryngology (24 faculty, 20 residents, and seven fellows). The researchers asked participants questions regarding the importance of cost — defined as the amount the institution pays to vendors for supplies and implants – to the participant and participants' ease of access to cost data. Lastly, they asked participants to estimate the costs of implants and OR supplies.

The researchers considered a cost estimate within 20% of the actual cost correct.

Only 25% of faculty and 12% of trainees estimated costs accurately.

Surgeons were likely to underestimate expensive items’ cost and overestimate lower-priced items’ cost.

Attending surgeons more accurately estimated their specialty’s costs. However, the participant’s years in practice and how the participant rated their own cost knowledge did not correlate with accurate cost predictions.

The authors noted a few limitations to the study — it was conducted in an academic environment (in one department) as opposed to in a private facility. Also, the team acknowledged otolaryngologists might understand costs better than other surgeons.

In 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report documenting the costs for the 100 most common inpatient hospital stays. Officials stressed that surgeons must understand the costs of the products they use and the services they provide to help the national movement to provide cost-effective care.