Hospitals

JAMA study: What’s the difference between ECGs and hospital parking? Transparency

As out-of-pocket costs increase for consumers, there’s a big push for hospitals to improve price transparency. Although the demand  represents a trend in healthcare, particularly among startups, it could be part of the future of healthcare once providers and payers and groups can untangle the complexities.  A study published in the Journal of the American […]

As out-of-pocket costs increase for consumers, there’s a big push for hospitals to improve price transparency. Although the demand  represents a trend in healthcare, particularly among startups, it could be part of the future of healthcare once providers and payers and groups can untangle the complexities.  A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association took on the issue by calling 20 hospitals in Philadelphia. It wanted to compare the ease of getting the price of parking over the phone compared with getting the cost of a medical procedure  — in this case electrocardiograms.

It’s actually a follow-up to a study looking at hip replacement transparency earlier this year.

ECGs and parking. Seems like an odd juxtaposition, right? ECGs were chosen because it’s a much simpler medical procedure than, say, hip replacements where the price can vary based on the medical device used. Parking was used to test the willingness of hospitals to give pricing information over the phone.

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So what happened? Three hospitals disclosed the cost of an electrocardiogram and 19 provided prices for parking or said it was free or discounted. Conclusion? Medical insurance payment schemes that promote concern about prices without a corresponding increase in price transparency themselves are likely to be ineffective.

I suspect people would not mind paying more if they had a better understanding of the factors that drive medical procedure prices at one hospital to differ so much from another, even in the same city. Possessing that information would help consumers make more informed decisions.

Some startups are taking on the issue themselves. Symcat added a transparency tool this fall to help people make more informed decisions about treatment costs. Clear Health Costs is taking its inspiration from hospitality industry channels like Kayak. Among the other companies in this area are SnapHealth, Healthcare Blue Book, Change Healthcare and FairCareMD.

[Photo credit: Healthcare costs from BigStock Photo]