The Value of Transparency in Consumer-Driven Healthcare

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With the opening of health exchanges courtesy of The Affordable Care Act last week, it became clear just how many people go online looking for healthcare questions and answers. Clearly, patients are interested to understand the nature of healthcare costs and exploring consumer-driven healthcare.  The concept of comparing costs and purchasing care online is nothing new to us, but for the majority of the country, this seems revolutionary.
 
The problem most face however, is determining what level of transparency is necessary to make consumer-driven healthcare valuable.  It is no secret that many care providers have tried to keep the costs of their services and procedures under wraps for a long time by saying that price transparency alone cannot feasibly lower healthcare costs. That it simply cannot solve our problems.  This sentiment has been echoed by employers, healthcare providers and insurance companies alike, but we beg the question, “why should transparency stop with the affordability component?”
 
To be a truly valuable tool for consumer-driven patients, transparency needs to be employed in regards to price, quality and care coordination.  In his TEDMED blog post “What To DO With Transparent Pricing in Healthcare,” Dan Munro asks two poignant questions about transparency:

  1. What value does pricing alone have when it’s untethered to quality or affordability? ANSWER: It has about the same influence on someone shopping for a car that knows the cost of a car without knowing the year, make or model of that car.  (Read: useless)
  2. Are, we in fact, building unrealistic expectations around the capacity of transparency alone to lower pricing? ANSWER: No, as long as we are considering the capacity of transparency in all the areas we have mentioned.  If no car dealerships told their customers the cost of a car until after they sold it to them, you can bet your bottom dollar that stereotypical used car salesman would charge you and arm and a leg and some fingers too. This is because in this scenario, the seller has all the power in the consumerism process.

 
So, how could the healthcare industry adhere better to transparency in all of these ways?

  • By showing self-pay pricing and average out-of-pocket costs for insured patients
  • By providing quality scores for physicians that are reflective of patient satisfaction, convenience, technology, success rates, accreditations etc.
  • By connecting patients with providers and individuals to assist in their care coordination, like having their own healthcare “concierge”
  • By offering patients a place where they can manage their own healthcare expenses online in a way that is easy to understand
  • By showing patients which physicians and care establishments are most accessible by patients

As Mr. Munro mentioned, there are a number of companies providing B2B solutions and a few companies aiming to assist patients, but we believe that they all have the same fatal flaw.  By focusing on too many niches within healthcare, they are unable to apply transparency in all three ways in order to provide value.  For instance, many sites show valuable pricing information but that is only a reference point, there is no way for a patient to compare different physicians based on cost and quality. Lastly, they are also unable to actually acquire an appointment at that cost straight from their site. It would be like seeing the cost for a trip to Las Vegas listed online for $120 roundtrip but without any way to pay online. Then you call the airline and they tell you that you really owe them $250 for the flight.
 
By focusing solely on radiology procedures, we have been able to tackle full transparency and provide true value to consumer-driven patients.  With our success, we can set the standard for online healthcare shopping and expand into other specialties and procedures.

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