Patient engagement through price transparency

May 30, 2018
Jonathan Kaplan, MD, MPH
Jonathan Kaplan, MD, MPH

Presenting price estimates can provide practices with an opportunity for greater outreach to current and potential patients.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform.

The race towards better patient engagement is ultimately about better communication and better health. But underlying those goals is cost containment. 

Here’s a novel idea: cost shouldn’t only serve as the goal. It can also be the “carrot.” In other words, cost (price transparency on healthcare services) can engage the patient, allowing for better education and thus leading to a healthier, more compliant lifestyle which eventually reduces healthcare costs.

Nothing captures the consumer’s attention more than cost. Especially a healthcare consumer’s out-of-pocket costs. As more consumers shoulder their healthcare costs through high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), they’re hedging their bets by paying a relatively lower monthly premium while knowing they risk greater out of pocket expense if they actually get sick or hurt.

HDHPs aren’t going anywhere. Aside from the potential cash flow benefit to consumers, it reduces the insurance companies' risk of paying out a benefit before the deductible is met.

So let’s use that thirst for pricing information to society’s advantage. If every doctor or healthcare facility used a lead-generating price estimator to provide price transparency to consumers, those same facilities would receive the consumer’s contact info in return. With those “leads” that include name, email address, phone number, and ZIP code, the healthcare provider now has a means to engage the patient.

That engagement can consist of further discussion about costs. It can simply be education on the procedure or service-of-interest. Either way, it’s a legitimate tactic to engage the consumer and navigate them through the healthcare process.

Pricing can be presented in several ways:
•A bundled out-of-pocket fee for a medically necessary service at a surgery center for example; or
• An estimate of the negotiated rate for an insurance-covered procedure.

Opponents of price transparency are quick to point out that patients don't always know what they want. Or they may choose the wrong procedure or not understand it's an estimate.

This is an Amazon world we live in, and in that world, consumers are expecting to know costs ahead of time. By clarifying that these are estimates, they understand it's not a guarantee. Regardless of the cynics out there, don't forget the underlying benefit here. By receiving the consumer's contact information, the doctor now has the opportunity to fill in that education gap before the patient steps in the office. 

Cost isn’t the only pain point. Of course, board certification and experience matter. However, cost is the ultimate pain point. And if the patient can't afford the out-of-pocket costs for a procedure, it doesn't matter how board certified you are, they won't be able to move forward. 

So let’s use pricing to capture the patient’s contact info. Once engaged, we can drive them to make better choices and a healthier lifestyle.

Jonathan Kaplan, MD, MPH, is a board-certified plastic surgeon based in San Francisco, CA and founder/CEO of BuildMyBod Health, an online marketplace for healthcare services that allows consumers to determine cost on out-of-pocket procedures, purchase non-surgical services, and in exchange, the healthcare providers receive consumer contact info - a lead - for follow up.