Dollars and Sense: Unlocking the Value of Price Transparency

While the ultimate state of the U.S. healthcare system remains a $3-trillion question mark, one impact of the ongoing uncertainty is already influencing the way Americans approach medical care. With more people shouldering a larger portion of their healthcare costs, their interest in, and expectation of, price transparency is only going to grow.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s covered care with a higher deductible or a self-pay cosmetic procedure. Today’s patients want to know: What’s it going to cost?

A recent study from Public Agenda puts the trend in perspective:

  • 63% of Americans say that there is not enough information about how much medical services cost
  • 70% think it is a good idea for doctors and their staff to discuss prices with patients before ordering tests, performing procedures, or providing referrals
  • 50% have tried to find healthcare price information before getting care, including 20% who have tried to compare prices across multiple providers

The internet has obliterated the walls that traditionally kept consumers from comparing prices. From comparison-shopping sites to cost-calculating apps, they’re now better able to determine what constitutes a fair price and good value. Obviously, healthcare presents a unique case, but just as no one walks onto a car lot without conducting some online cost comparisons, patients want to know how (financially) painful their healthcare is going to be.

Aesthetic patients are no different, and since they generally pay out of pocket, may be even more inclined to research the cost of the treatments they’re considering. From nationwide averages for dozens of procedures via ASAPS’ statistics to local data on hundreds more via the prices RealSelf users report, decision-influencing information is both readily available and in high demand. A Google search for the phrase “RealSelf.com: how much” alone returns more than 1 million results.

So the question becomes whether to post procedure prices or not. Some doctors maintain that posting fees fosters a race to the bottom while others believe it’s a valid sorting tool that eliminates “tire kickers” and “looky-loos.” Both views have merit, but given the changes cited above, the latter may be more in tune, and therefore more appealing, to today’s increasingly cost-conscious patients. The following strategies can help with the effort:

Provide context

Most patients are unaware of what their course of treatment will entail. That’s especially true for surgeries, in which they’re likely to incur charges from their doctor, an anesthesiologist, and a hospital or surgical center. Relieve their anxiety by explaining what fees are included, what fees aren’t, and by providing additional content that reiterates your commitment to providing higher value, not the lowest price.

Facilitate the journey

With so many patients considering cost a top priority, their search efforts may lead them directly to the fee page of your practice website, not your homepage. Make it easy for them to dig deeper into your offerings by providing links to procedure details, explainer videos, and testimonials from satisfied patients, and make sure that contact information and an online consultation-request form are never more than a click away.

Use technology to keep in touch

Used strategically, posting prices can also facilitate lead management. San Francisco plastic surgeon Jonathan Kaplan, MD, MPH, for example, has developed an interactive cost estimator that allows website visitors to create a “wish list” of desired procedures. To receive the resulting price data, potential patients must provide their contact information, which allows them to be entered into the practice’s lead-management system for further follow-up.

The impact was impressive. As reported in the Annals of Plastic Surgery, patients who utilized the estimator spent more time on the practice website, viewed more pages, and allowed the practice to build its email list from 200 addresses to over 4,100 over approximately 2.5 years. Most important, potential patients who were aware of what their treatment(s) would cost were 41% more likely to book a procedure than non–price-aware patients.

As Kaplan puts it,

Plastic surgeons, longtime participants in the self-pay health care 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?

Doctor Takeaway

Patients appreciate price transparency — and the doctors who provide it

The decision to publish prices for procedures is, of course, a personal one, but in an era in which people are increasingly price-conscious and transparency is increasingly the norm, doctors who eschew the practice may find themselves at a disadvantage. Those who embrace it, on the other hand, will be well-positioned to explain to potential patients exactly what they’ll get for their money.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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