Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Transparency Update

It's been a while since we addressed transparency in health care. Very briefly, this is the idea that folks aren't aware, up front, of the costs of various procedures or medications. Although information regarding the latter is becoming more and more available, "regular" health care costs still remain somewhat murky. To an extent, this is to be expected: after all, there are many carriers and many plans, and providers themselves often have little (if any) idea how much a given procedure or exam will cost.
Still, it's an admirable -- and attainable -- goal. We've generally seen initiatives in this area from insurers and, to an extent, Medicare. As a fan of private enterprise, I've been hoping for more entrepreneurs to jump in. FoIB Chris Parks' efforts at MedBill Advisor come to mind, and Bob recently tipped me to this start-up:
The company, founded in 2006, enables patients to access a variety of information about cost and availability, as well as quality of care. The site looks a lot like a shopping portal (complete with a graphic of a woman with a shopping basket). The metaphor is clear, if unsubtle: shop for health care as you would for milk and eggs, pants and shirts, a new car or DVD player.
This idea of health care as a commodity has, of course, upset a number of apple carts [ed: ugh!]:
"But Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, said the site is nothing more than advertising, and he hoped it wouldn't catch on.
"Among physicians, there's a belief that health care is too critical ... to be left to the usual marketplace," he said."
Methinks thou dost protest too much, Doc.
Like it or not, you (and your colleagues) are in the business of delivering health care. While that may not seem particularly glamorous, and perhaps shows less deference than that to which you're accustomed, it is the truth. There are all kinds of health information resources available (from WebMD on out); don't you think your patients have already figured that out?
The article Bob sent also mentions something that regular readers of IB already know:
"If the site becomes more comprehensive, Carol.com would be most useful to people with high-deductible plans, health savings accounts or those without health insurance, said Elizabeth Boehm, an analyst with Forrester Research who studies the health care customer's experience."
As proponents of such plans, we've made this case many times over the years: it's your money, after all, shouldn't you spend it wisely?
Still, it's nice to be validated.
I think psychiatrist Ronald Groat summed it up best: "Carol is important because it makes health care "more visible and transparent to someone who's looking for help."
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