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That MRI is How Much? Three Tips Providers Can Use to Embrace Cost Transparency

Providers can and should use the latest web and mobile cost estimator tools – offering them upfront, before and while people book appointments. Here are three tips to achieve price transparency.

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Would you buy a shirt with no price listed, receiving a bill months later for anywhere from $30-$300? It seems counterintuitive, yet that’s how many consumers purchase health care services. Even when patients want to know ahead of time how much an office visit or procedure will cost, they typically only find out after the fact how much they were charged.

Patients’ frustration with “surprise bills” is a critical problem for providers. Currently, the costly and complex health care industry scores near the bottom in customer satisfaction – lower than banks, hotels and cell phone providers. People want more transparent pricing information from their health care providers: Three-quarters of people with a deductible larger than $3,000 say they’ve tried to find price information before getting care, and 69 percent of consumers say they’d like a website that shows how much different doctors charge.

In this era of consumer-centric transparency, there’s a solution that can help with these problems. Providers can and should use the latest web and mobile cost estimator tools – offering them upfront, before and while people book appointments. Doing so can improve patient satisfaction and loyalty, and potentially reduce unpaid or contested bills. Today, technology platforms use big data to crunch dynamic pricing information, insurance plan data, zip code-level demographics and other factors to provide accurate estimates to each individual who searches for care. So, what steps can providers take to get the most out of cost estimator tools?

  • Be upfront about costs before people book appointments. When patients visit your website or mobile app, make sure they see price estimates at key points of interaction. They’re most likely coming to search for a doctor in their area who treats a specific condition they have. They use your search tool to look up “dermatologist” or “eye doctor” or “anxiety” in hopes of making an appointment with a local doctor covered by their health plan. Before you lead them to the appointment page, make sure the cost for an office visit is listed prominently, and guide them to your cost estimator tool to get prices for queries about related procedures, such as “botox” or “glaucoma test.”
  • Make it easy for patients to find affordable, accessible care. Guided search tools ask patients questions about what type of service they need and recommend results based on their answers. Unlike an open search bar, guided search enables providers to lead patients to in-network physicians and primary care physicians. Guiding patients to appropriate doctors at predictable costs, instead of to specialists who may be pricey or out of network, results in fewer “surprise bills.”
  • Analyze searches to get actionable insights. When people use cost estimator tools, their anonymized search data becomes an invaluable source of insights for providers. The right technology platform will allow providers to analyze cost searches for insights that can be used to refine services and fine-tune pricing structures. Data analytics can show, for example, which specific treatments people are looking for most often in which demographic areas, as well as how many people go on to book appointments after seeing estimated costs. By analyzing this type of data closely, providers can make business improvements that improve patient outcomes, attract new customers and increase overall profitability. Bottom line: Listen to what patients want and then provide those services.

It’s the age of the empowered consumer, with people accustomed to comparing prices online and exemplary customer service from retailers like Amazon. Cost estimator and transparency tools can help patients easily find cost estimates based on their individual condition, location, specific insurance plan and other unique factors – and can help providers thrive in this new environment.

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