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This customer comes in several shapes and sizes: the insurance company or managed care organization looking for the best deal; the government purchaser operating within a limited, even restrictive, budget; and the price-conscious individual seeking something affordable for themselves or a loved one.

Low cost is paramount to this customer. But it’s not the only thing they seek. And those other considerations often turn out to be a key to customer choice.

A government or insurance buyer needs to make certain that a provider offers a particular service and meets particular standards of performance. They won’t necessarily require you to exceed those standards, or provide extras. They understand that we get what we pay for.

Low cost healthcare services have something in common with fast food. We want cheap and quick, so we put up with a limited selection and we bus our own tables.

Don’t want to stretch the comparison too far, but you get the picture.

So to be a success with price shoppers, a healthcare provider must:

  1. Make certain our price matches the lowest currently available;
  2. Ensure our services include those most in demand at present
  3. Meet the customer’s requirements for licensure and accreditation; and
  4. Design our services to make sure they’re readily available and easy to access

The last bit’s the most challenging. Barriers seem to spring up virtually unnoticed.

Example: One residential program serving an indigent population had established a policy that applicants contact the program by phone to complete an intake interview. The rationale: to ensure patients were really seeking treatment and not the proverbial ‘3 hots and a cot’.

Understandable, but a problem emerged: most of the homeless clientele didn’t have access to a phone for a fifteen minute intake. Even those who resided at a shelter were required to leave at 8 a.m. every morning; designated intake hours were 9-5.

It worked, in the sense that only more strongly motivated clients were admitted. But the government customer’s goal was to treat as many persons as they could – so they were unhappy, and considering a switch of vendors.

Same thing happens in outpatient programs. One provider complained that clients referred by a low-end managed care company dropped out of treatment at a high rate. They set a policy that required clients to wait a month after intake for formal admission – if they were still interested in 30 days, the program would accept them. And of course, most potential clients didn’t make it. So the insurance company dropped the provider.

How to tell if a low-cost provider provides adequate access to services:

  • The intake and admission process is speedy and yet accomplishes all the required tasks.
  • Client satisfaction surveys indicate access without undue hassle.
  • Case managers and other referents do the same when you query them about their experience with making referrals.


This post belongs to Why Some Programs Succeed