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January 5, 2017

Got back pain? Muskie School lands grant to help health practices explain treatment options

The University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service in partnership with Maine Quality Counts and the Maine Health Data Organization has received a $233,000 one-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to examine new ways of informing patients about the cost of their health care.

The cost-of-care pilot project will work with 12 primary care health practices in Maine and will focus on patients with lower back pain to help them understand the effectiveness of different treatment options relative to their cost to help inform their choices.

"Maine is already working to increase the transparency of health care costs," Kimberley Fox, a senior research associate at the Muskie School of Public Service, said in a statement. "However, many health care providers are searching for the best way to share that information with patients as diagnosis and treatment options are weighed."

Making informed choices

"Health care providers want to provide the best care possible that takes into account patients' needs, including sensitivity to cost, particularly in areas where such treatments as physical therapy might be as effective as more costly tests and procedures," Fox said. "People should be given the information needed to make informed choices."

Currently, the Maine Health Data Organization hosts a website that compares the cost of a wide variety of medical procedures and services in Maine. It is one of the first state-based public reporting websites in the country that provides standardized costs for selected treatment services using data from Maine's All-Payer Claims Database.

Pilot practices will work as a team to talk with their patients with low back pain about cost-related questions concerning diagnosis and treatment options and share information from the CompareMaine website. The project will also explore how to help providers discuss the relative value of treatment options, integrate the concepts into clinical workflow and evaluate how those talks change patient engagement in their care.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant will conclude at the end of 2017 with a detailed report on the project's findings.

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