A couple visiting Duluth, MN over the holidays needed to get their baby to a doctor on New Year’s Day. Being from Portland, OR they didn’t have a provider in town. So, they checked out reviews of local providers on Yelp and decided the urgent care center at nearby St. Luke’s hospital would be a good choice. It was the right call, as they got their baby in to see a friendly, efficient doctor in a reasonable amount of time. Their positive experience jumped the tracks when they were handed a bill for far more than the expected $45 copay—$308, to be exact. The couple thinks things started to go awry when they walked in the front door, which is shared by the urgent care center and the emergency room. They say they were charged the ED rate. The hospital claims the fee is actually correct and based on their fee structure for the hospital-based urgent care facility, which is higher than in its freestanding clinics. What’s agreed on is that the couple is now fighting to get the bill reduced, trading phone calls and countless with emails with patient advocates, the hospital, and their insurer. While some of the responsibility surely rests with the family, the mess could have been avoided with clear, prominent signage and simple communication at the time of check-in. The tale is a reminder to consider what your patient’s experience is likely to be. Try to imagine walking into your facility for the first time; would you know where to go, what questions to ask, how to understand what the charges would likely be? You may even consider asking a friend who’s never been to your center to drop in the next time they need care and give you honest feedback. Whether you hear nothing but glowing things about your workplace and its staff or learn there are challenges you hadn’t considered, the experience is likely to be an eye-opener.
Why Signage and Coding Matter—to Patients