Very Few Patients Take Advantage of Health Care Pricing Tools

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Anna D. Sinaiko, PhD, MPP Research Scientist Department of Health Policy & Management Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Boston, MA 02115

Dr. Anna D. Sinaiko

Anna D. Sinaiko, PhD, MPP
Research Scientist
Department of Health Policy & Management
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Boston, MA 02115

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: One strategy for reducing health care spending in the U.S. is to increase transparency in health care pricing for patients. The idea is that patients can learn about and anticipate the prices they would pay for health care before they receive care, and incorporate that information into their choices about whether and where to receive care. When patients incorporate price information into their decisions, it gives providers an incentive to compete on price and quality.

There has been a dramatic increase in the availability of health care price information over the last few years for patients who have commercial health insurance, primarily through web-based tools. In this study, we examined the impact of this information on patient choice of health care facility.

We find that a small number of enrollees with commercial health insurance through Aetna, 3% overall, accessed price information through their transparency tool. Among users of the tool, patients who viewed price information for imaging services and for sleep studies before they had the service chose facilities with lower prices, and incurred lower spending (of 12%) for imaging services. We found no effect on patient choices for patients who viewed price information for 6 other health care services (carpal tunnel release, cataract/lens procedures, colonoscopy, echocardiogram, mammograms, and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy).

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: These findings suggest that there is an opportunity for health care price transparency tools to have an impact on patient choice of health care facility, particularly for imaging services and sleep studies.

In addition, we are not able to evaluate whether viewing health information, in and of itself, was helpful to patients. If price information helped patients anticipate and plan for their health care spending, that is also of value.

However, low overall rates of use of the tool suggest that the effort to engage patients with health care price information is still a work in progress.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: I recommend that future research investigate strategy to engage consumers with health care price information, particularly patients having health care services that are suited to shopping and who face high out-of-pocket cost-sharing, in order to increase the impact of these tools.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.

Citation:

Association Between Viewing Health Care Price Information and Choice of Health Care Facility
Anna D. Sinaiko, PhD, MPP; Karen E. Joynt, MD, MPH; Meredith B. Rosenthal, PhD

JAMA Intern Med. Published online October 24, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.6622

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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