How much does a diabetes out-patient appointment actually cost? An argument for PLICS

Paul Grant
Journal of Health Organization and Management 2015, 29 (2): 154-69

PURPOSE: The national tariff system for clinical processes and procedures aims to put a discrete unit cost on clinical activity. Calculating such costs can be subject to a great deal of local variation and interpretation. Given the rising costs of diabetes the purpose of this paper is to ask the question what does a diabetes outpatient appointment in the UK NHS actually cost? This is important in a time of financial austerity and healthcare rationing because it can be difficult to decipher the attribution of costs within the acute hospital setting.

DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH: Exploring this question, the author considers the present cost model and analyse in terms of the language of unit model cost; the basic tariff system and how it works in diabetes and looking at internal cost information the author attempts to unbundle the cost to provide a more accurate value for the cost object.

FINDINGS: One major finding is that costs and overheads are divided arbitrarily as opposed to being distributed on the basis of measured relative consumption. Alternative costing methods are appraised to demonstrate that a patient level episodic costing approach such as patient level information and costing system (PLICS) which incorporates aspects of activity-based costing (ABC) would be far more appropriate. Using time driven ABC (TDABC), a new patient appointment costs £162 for 30 minutes and a follow-up appointment costs £81 for 15 minutes.

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: PLICS has the added benefit of greater financial and clinical transparency and this goes some way towards the holy grail of greater engagement with the doctors delivering clinical care.

SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS: It would appear that there are different purposes of different costing systems. One can argue that a costing system is there to both contain costs and divide overheads and demonstrate activity. Depending on how data are interpreted costing information can be an agent of enlightenment and behavioural modification for healthcare professionals to show them their direct and indirect costs, their capacity and productivity.

ORIGINALITY/VALUE: Clinicians and health service managers can see from this practical example how the distribution of costs and resources are unfair and can impede the delivery of a service. By using alternative costing methodologies such as ABC not only do the author gets a better reflection of the true cost of the finished consultant episode but is also able to engage clinicians in understanding how costs are generated.

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