To post prices or not to post prices, that is the question.
For doctors providing medically necessary services, the question has taken on new urgency thanks to the Affordable Care Act, high-deductible health plans, and other developments that influence patient choice and provider reimbursement. For aesthetic professionals, on the other hand, it’s been a topic of conversation ever since the internet made transparency a fact of business life.
The decision is, of course, a personal one — some doctors believe posting procedure fees leads to price-shopping at the expense of skill and expertise, others embrace it as a tool for preventing “sticker shock” and weeding out “looky-loos” — but new research suggests providing price information can have some surprising benefits, including significant increases in patient inquiries, surgeries, and revenue.
Published in the May issue of the Annals of Plastic Surgery, the study analyzed the impact of incorporating an interactive cost estimator into the website of the author’s plastic surgery practice. Prospective patients were invited to submit a “wishlist” of desired procedures, but were required to submit their contact information in order to receive the desired breakdown of costs.
Over the course of a year, 208 consumers submitted a total of 412 wishlists. Of these “price-aware prospects,” 37 (17.8%) scheduled a face-to-face consultation, 23 of whom (62%) subsequently booked a procedure. (Another six scheduled consults and subsequent surgeries during the following year.) Overall, price-aware patients were 41% more likely to book a procedure than non–price-aware patients.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, those who booked a procedure provided a significant boost to the practice’s bottom line: At an average price of $4,018 per procedure, the effort generated gross revenues of $92,418 during the first year and $26,702 during the second.
The study goes on to note some of the reasons doctors continue to avoid posting prices, including:
- The concern that patients might price shop instead of focusing on surgeon relationship
- A concern that patients might not understand prices are estimates subject to adjustment based on their individual situation
- A concern that competitors could be comparing prices
They’re all valid concerns. But considering that the first two can be addressed through appropriate content and the third happens anyway, the study makes a compelling case that helping patients avoid “sticker shock” helps practices, as well. From generating more leads to gathering more contact information (for more effective follow-up), practices that post prices can save time, operate more efficiently, and begin building relationships with those consumers who are most likely to become actual patients.
The study describes other benefits, as well. Using Google Analytics to analyze website traffic, the research revealed that the site’s bounce rate dropped by almost half when visitors arrived via the pricing page (36% vs. 61% for those arriving via the homepage); time on site more than doubled (3.43 minutes vs. 1.63 minutes for the rest of the site), and page visits rose to 3.18 pages vs. 2.40 pages.
Put it all together and it’s clear that the data complements the ongoing shifts in the larger healthcare market. As the study notes,
There is a paradigm shift in society, where consumers want and expect all purchasable items to have a clearly marked price that can be determined online and before treatment. A typical retort to this expectation is that health care costs are too complicated to compile. Despite this complexity, many private and public initiatives are pushing for greater price transparency in the health care marketplace.
Given the unique (i.e., non-covered) nature of most cosmetic services, it’s only natural that such initiatives will find favor among aesthetic consumers, who have long shouldered the financial burden entailed in addressing their medibeauty concerns. The fact is that cost will always be a concern for such patients, but it’s hardly the only factor involved in their decision-making processes. In fact, according to RealSelf research, it plays a far smaller role than board certification, online reviews, and a good gallery of Before & After photos.
Still, in a world where price transparency is increasingly the norm, bucking the trend may not be the best way to go. As the study notes,
Plastic surgeons, longtime participants in the self-pay healthcare sector, are better poised to promote price transparency initiatives. From a financial perspective, there is no difference between the breast augmentation patient and the patient with a high deductible health plan seeking a full-body MRI. For this reason, plastic surgeons should naturally lead the price transparency revolution — but will they?
In light of the ongoing trends in healthcare and beyond, it’s a question every aesthetic professional should be asking.