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How much will it cost? For many, this question is the most critical determining factor in receiving quality medical care but can be difficult to broach with a health care provider. A new research effort led by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture aims to better facilitate these conversations, leading to improved health outcomes, especially for rural patients.

“Access to care and following treatment recommendations from a health care provider is often impacted by other expenses, like childcare, transportation, housing or regular bills,” stated Christopher T. Sneed, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and lead investigator for the project. “Discussing these competing priorities while discussing treatment options is a critical part of the health care process. These ‘cost of care’ conversations have the potential to change outcomes for rural patients as they discuss options that are financially feasible with their provider,” added the expert.

Over the next two years, the research team will develop and test materials for older adults and health care providers that help cost of care conversations take place. Then, training and webinars will be offered for both patients and health care providers to reinforce the materials and provide practice for conducting these conversations in productive and helpful ways.

“For patients living in poverty, especially in rural areas, out-of-pocket costs can mean the difference between following treatment recommendations and ignoring them completely,” continued Sneed. “When health care providers know and understand that these costs are a factor, they are better equipped to offer alternative treatment options or connect patients to available resources. But they won’t know unless their patients tell them. That’s where this effort comes in. Facilitating cost of care conversations fills a simple but critical gap in communication between patients and health care providers.”

“Bringing together researchers from the College of Nursing and the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, and working in collaboration with UT Extension, this unique project will ultimately improve health outcomes, especially in rural areas,” stated Victoria Niederhauser, dean and professor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing and a member of the research team.

This effort is supported by a new grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. More than $3.8 million was recently awarded to teams across the country who are working to impact the health and safety of rural Americans through education and outreach. In addition to Sneed and Niederhauser, the research team is comprised of Department of Family and Consumer Sciences team members Ann Berry, Lisa Washburn, Karen Franck, Barbara Metzger, Karen Sergent, and Cris Miramontes.


Patty McDaniels (615-835-4570,