Health IT, Patient Engagement

HIMSS16: Embrace price transparency and win the Internet, too

“From a financial perspective, a boob job is no different than an MRI,” said San Francisco plastic surgeon Dr. Jonathan L. Kaplan. “You need to start thinking like a plastic surgeon.”

BuildMyBod iPad

“From a financial perspective, a boob job is no different than an MRI,” said San Francisco plastic surgeon Dr. Jonathan L. Kaplan.

In this age of high-deductible health plans, patients for both procedures are paying out of pocket, and thus need to know what things cost, Kaplan explained Thursday at HIMSS16 in Las Vegas. Thus, he said, delivering price transparency has never been more important.

“You need to start thinking like a plastic surgeon,” said Kaplan, who runs the solo Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery practice in San Francisco. He’s also developed a price transparency mobile app for Apple iOS called BuildMyBod, allowing patients to check prices and pay online for nonsurgical services.

Physicians generally cite three concerns for not disclosing prices, Kaplan said. They’re either worried about patients price-shopping and not caring about building a relationship with a doctor; they say patients may not understand that these are estimated prices, subject to insurance adjustments; and fear it could be competitors calling to check prices.

Kaplan said that 82 percent of people calling his office are inquiring about pricing, and he already has a fee schedule. “You need to provide this information in a nice, consumer-friendly way,” Kaplan advised. And the practice needs to do so in a way that it can collect patient information.

One school of thought is to give all the price information over the phone. That takes up a lot of staff time and the practice doesn’t get any data about the prospective patient, Kaplan noted.

The second common approach is to give no information and make callers come in for a consultation. But that might turn off some potential customers. “I realized there had to be a better way,” Kaplan said. That better way is to put the information online, either through the Web or an app. His office directs callers to the practice website or to the iTunes App Store.

Through the BuildMyBod app, prospective patients can build wishlists, which get emailed to the participating practice, along with basic demographic and contact information the practice would not get in a quick phone call. In Kaplan’s first year in San Francisco after relocating from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 82.2 percent of users submitted information that he would not have collected if they had simply called, he said.

“Just driving patients to your website isn’t enough. You can’t follow that click,” Kaplan said. They need to disclose information, and getting access to a price list is a good reason to do so. “It’s way better than buying an e-mail list,” Kaplan said.

This has a double effect of showing whether Web marketing is working. “If you aren’t getting any wishlists, you aren’t getting any traffic to your website,” Kaplan said. He called data collection an “SEO truth serum” that can indicate whether the site has good content.

Online purchasing also encourages patient engagement. In his first year in San Francisco, Web and app visitors made 292 online purchases, worth $70,487 to the practice, Kaplan reported.

“You can actually take part in Cyber Monday,” he added. He had $13,600 in revenue for nonsurgical services in 24 hours on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

This approach toward price transparency doesn’t work for all specialties, though. Kaplan noted that high-cost procedures covered by insurance — think heart bypasses or joint replacements — will put patients over their deductibles if they haven’t hit it already. Insurance will negotiate discounts and cover most of the cost anyway.

Dentistry is a good one for price transparency because people generally don’t have as much coverage as they do for medical services, Kaplan said. Being open also works well for concierge primary care practices and urgent care. Particularly for urgent care, the provider will ask for money or at least an insurance card in advance.