If you want to have a useful conversation with would-be customers to see how they would use your product, wining and dining is a good start. For Lyfechannel CEO Dave Vockell, it started at IHOP. He sat down to breakfast with his team and toddlers and learned how they interact with their physicians and how they might use a price transparency tool Lyfechannel developed called Smart Health Hero, which won the Code-a-Palooza this week.
He talked about his experience in a Google Hangout about Harnessing Data to Improve Health hosted by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
One of its priorities was accomplishing the difficult balance of creating a big data application that was tangible and practical for consumers to use. Smart Health Hero is a price sheet that uses datasets from CMS to outline what physicians charge Medicare for certain procedures. It also highlights five physicians who charge the least within a 20-mile radius of the user.
The first thing Vockell learned from the 43 seniors the company treated to breakfast was that they would feel uncomfortable having a blunt, open-ended conversation with physicians about whether they are being overcharged. At the same time, he said they liked the idea of a price transparency tool as a conversation starter.
“One of the things we heard from the seniors was ‘I love my doctor and I’m not looking to change, but I am definitely willing to negotiate,’” Vockell said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the top priority was large, easy-to-read text that could easily be printed so users could take it with them to appointments. They weren’t interested in sending it by phone or transmitting it to another mobile device. So it was also a somewhat humbling experience for a technology entrepreneur.
Lyfechannel is launching a version of the Smart Health Hero app in a couple of weeks that has the capacity to support the thousands of people it hopes will use the app.
Vockell said it would use the app as a patient engagement tool rather than a standalone business. “It’s an interesting feature in the context of making other decisions about patients’ health,” he said. It will be part of [the company's] decision-making tools for healthcare priorities. It also operates patient programs for diabetes and COPD.
Lyfechannel’s idea, which reflects the thinking of CMS and companies that are trying to increase price transparency, is that making it easier to see what each physician charges will make healthcare costs less varied from one provider to another. Vockell pointed out that car prices within a 50-mile radius in the 1990s differed by as much as 25 percent. But in subsequent years, car prices only varied about 4 percent since it’s so much easier for consumers to do price comparisons.
Some would argue that healthcare costs are much more complicated than shopping for a new set of wheels. Although price transparency may not impact all healthcare costs, it could have an impact on some of the more common medical procedures.