How Shopping for Medical Procedures and Airline Tickets Are Similar

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Are you one of those people who scour daily deal sites just to save a couple dollars on a big expense? You’re not alone, which is why websites like Groupon, Expedia and HauteLook have been able to capitalize on our desire to save money while helping us take advantage of good deals. With more and more people shopping online for deals on things like technology and travel, it’s no big surprise to see patients looking for ways to save on medical procedures.

There are a number of ways that websites like Save On Medical are helping patients shop more efficiently for medical procedures, services, even insurance plans; but it seems there are even more tricks we can be stealing from the travel industry to make consumerism in healthcare even more valuable.

ABC News reported that the average family of four spends $3,750 each year on vacation, which is comparable to the average out-of-pocket health care costs a family of four racks up, totaling an average of $3,500 each year. With costs that steep, it is clear why patients have turned to the Internet to find more affordable options. Let’s take a look at some of the ways healthcare providers can improve transparency and access for their patients by following the path travel sites have paved for us:

1. Consumerism in the travel Industry and Healthcare have both evolved
In 2000, travelers relied solely on airlines and travel agents to book their travel, hoping they were getting an okay deal. With the introduction of websites like Expedia and Travelocity, travelers were finally able to take control of their travel for the first time. The same things are in play with healthcare consumerism, but the opportunity for savings is much more significant!

2. Traveling to get cheaper fares.
When you shop for travel deals, you might find that the lowest priced options require you to travel to a further airport, especially if you’re from a rural area. Patients might regularly run into this same problem when shopping for health care procedures, having to resort to driving to larger cities to find the right care provider. Often times however, patients don’t realize that they can find amazing care providers in smaller, outpatient practices for much less, even in rural areas.

3. Price unrelated to quality.
Consumers commonly misconstrue higher prices to mean higher quality and we can thank Ritz Carlton and Mercedes for this, but in healthcare and in travel, this is simply not the case. Airtran for example is able to provide fair pricing for their flights while having a generally spectacular reputation for service, snacks and an overall positive flying experience. Their flights are almost always cheaper than their competitors, take United Airlines or American Airlines for instance. Airtran however, was ranked by Forbes as the #3 best airline in America while United and American Airlines came in as #14 and #10 respectively.

4. Compare options and pay online for discounts.
With flight deals, you can easily compare options side-by-side to pick the plan that works best for you, then pay for the flight online to lock in the cheapest deal. Of course, if you call that airline and try to book the same travel over the phone, they likely will not offer you the same deal that you saw on Expedia. This is because they contract those rates with each website, in the same way we contract self-pay rates, the lowest rate available for diagnostic imaging procedures, so that our patients can get the best deal.

5. Bundled booking for bigger discounts.
Currently, we are unaware of any sites that allow patients to book multiple procedures for significant discounts, but why couldn’t it work the same way Travelocity offers hotel-booking discounts when you buy a flight or rent a car? This would certainly be beneficial for patients who need multiple screenings at a time like a breast ultrasound along with a diagnostic mammogram.

6. Highlighting most commonly booked options.
Gustav Le Bon’s contagion theory proves that as humans, we like what other humans like and are naturally drawn to things that have been approved by society. This is a fancy way of saying if one person was happy with a physician, word-of-mouth praise would eventually result in another patient visiting that doctor too. The same goes for hotels, bed and breakfasts and resorts, so it makes sense that deal-booking websites would point out their most commonly selected options to help visitors make smart decisions.