Cost awareness among healthcare professionals at a South African hospital: A cross-sectional survey

G D Nethathe, S Tshukutsoane, K J Denny


Background. Financial cost is a recognised cause of lack of access to adequate healthcare in South Africa (SA). Data describing the SA healthcare professional (HCP)’s awareness of costs are scant. Their increased awareness of healthcare costs may improve efficacy and reduce wasteful expenditure.

Objective. To assess SA HCP’s knowledge of healthcare costs, identify factors that influence cost awareness, and to determine if surveyed HCPs received training related to cost management during their studies or at any stage during their practice.

Methods. This cross-sectional survey was conducted by means of a standardised questionnaire. HCPs working at a major tertiary academic hospital were asked to answer an anonymous standardised questionnaire aimed at determining their awareness of the costs of commonly requested hospital items and tests. Cost accuracy was determined by assessing the log deviation of the estimated cost from true cost, with values >0 and <0 representing overestimates and underestimates, respectively. Cost estimations were considered correct if the absolute value of the log deviation was <0.2. Participants’ attitudes towards the potential impact of the availability of cost information on their practice were assessed.

Results. The overall cost estimation of accuracy was low (mean 0.60; standard deviation 1.99) and differed widely between items. Cheaper items were more likely to be overestimated and expensive items to be underestimated. The majority of participants indicated that cost awareness education was not part of their training or practice (84.5%) and that they would like cost information to be made readily available (92.2%). Eighty-four percent of participants were of the opinion that cost information would not negatively affect patient care.

Conclusion. The use of percentage deviation from true cost as a method of assessing cost awareness creates a bias towards overestimation, which is more relevant for cheap items, as larger overestimates are more common for these items. We propose the use of log deviation of the estimated cost from the true cost as a method of assessing cost estimation accuracy. HCPs have a limited understanding of the costs of disposables, tests and drugs commonly used in their practice and would prefer that cost information be made readily available to them. Attention should be paid to improving cost awareness among HCPs working at SA hospitals.

Authors' affiliations

G D Nethathe, Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Brisbane; and Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia; Division of Critical Care, School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

S Tshukutsoane, Division of Critical Care, School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

K J Denny, Department of Intensive Care, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia

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Medical knowledge; Practice-based learning and improvement; Systems-based practice; Clinical competence; Cost awareness; Economics; Hospital costs; Medical education

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2017;107(11):1010-1014. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v107i11.12513

Article History

Date submitted: 2017-10-31
Date published: 2017-10-31

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