As we’ve noted before, aesthetic consumers are smart, social and increasingly analytical when it comes to making decisions about procedures and providers. In fact, thanks to the abundance of information on the Internet, they’re using the same criteria — reading reviews, comparing providers — to evaluate tummy tucks that they do for tablets and TVs.
Like it or not, one of those criteria is price, which raises the question of whether publishing procedure prices online makes sense. Some doctors believe it encourages consumers to take a price-first approach that contributes to the commoditization of cosmetic surgery; others, that it saves time for both providers and potential patients. Either way, it’s an issue that won’t go away any time soon.
Fewer tire-kickers, more qualified leads
For William Portuese, M.D., of Seattle, the situation reached a tipping point around two years ago after several patients came into the office with no idea what the procedure they wanted would cost: “I got tired of the tire-kickers so we said, let’s just post our prices and see what happens.”
What happened, he says, was that his price list became the second-most visited page on his website. (The photo gallery remains No. 1.) “I’d say 95% of patients who come in now have seen the prices on our website,” says Portuese. The result? Fewer tire-kickers, better conversion rates and a more efficient practice.
“I have an operating room and a staff of 10, so it’s not just my time. It’s 10 people’s time,” he says. “You come in and spend a half-hour with me and a half-hour with my staff, I want you to be pre-qualified.”
And there’s no escaping the fact that patients do factor prices into their aesthetic decisions. For one thing, recession-weary consumers are paying more attention to what they pay for everything they buy; for another, the Internet has fostered increased price transparency by making prices more available to more people.
“Ignoring the issue will not make it go away,” says Maureen Ezekwugo, EVP Doctor Community at RealSelf. “Whether they like it or not, the doctor down the street may be listing their prices and consumers will be forming their opinion on acceptable prices around what they find online.”
The key, she says, “is to find a balance between posting prices online and educating the consumer to ask the right questions on why prices vary so widely for the same procedures.”
It’s about value, not price
Count Jeffrey Epstein, M.D., FACS, of Miami and New York among those who feel publishing prices online is a bad idea because it only encourages more price-shopping.
“We don’t post fees because we don’t want patients looking at us for our prices; we want them to look at us and say, I like what I think this doctor can do for me,” he says. “Once a physician makes the decision to compete on price, there’s always going to be someone who can beat him and that’s a very dangerous position to be in.”
Instead, Epstein tries to keep the emphasis on perceived value rather than price: “Once the patient understands the value of the procedure, then they’re presented with a range of fees. By the time they come into the office, our feeling is that they’ll already know why the fee is what it is.”
Nevertheless, Epstein recognizes that the Internet has changed the game and that people have more opportunities to ascertain costs before they contact a doctor: “Fifteen years ago, there was no Internet so there was no reason to post prices.”
Apples to apples?
Based in La Jolla, Calif., Robert Singer, M.D., FACS counts himself among the latter for the simple reason that no two patients are alike. “The problem with posting specific prices is that everybody’s anatomy is different,” he says. “What procedure I would perform on one person is not the same procedure I would perform on a second person so we give a range of prices when a person calls in.”
For Singer, the issue is further compounded because consumers don’t always know what a posted price entails: “Does it include the operating room, the anesthesiologist, lab tests? Just looking at the bottom-line price may give a patient a very false sense of what they’re getting.”
Put it all together and it’s clear that there are pros and cons to posting prices and the decision to do so or not is ultimately a matter of practice philosophy. Some doctors will continue to post specific fees; others will opt for a range of prices or include a disclaimer, and others will prefer to leave the discussion for a follow-up call or office consult.
Different approaches aside, it’s also clear that potential patients are becoming increasingly informed about all aspects of their aesthetic options. The Internet has put an unprecedented amount of information at consumers’ fingertips and doctors who provide the information those consumers demand are more likely to convert them into patients.
“You start talking about osteotomies and cartilage grafts and they already know what you’re talking about,” says Portuese. “That’s why we put all sorts of information out there — price is just part of it.”
What do you do in your practice or recommend to your clients debating this issue?