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Consumer website aims for price transparency in radiology services

Americans can shop online for pizza, hotel reservations and lots of other goods and services, so why not for medical procedures as well?

That's what Matt Schneider, vice president of marketing at Atlantic Health Solutions, was wondering when he helped the Tampa-based radiology management firm start, a year-old website that lets people search for radiology services, compare prices and, in certain areas for now, book appointments.

Schneider thinks the website can be a triple win of sorts, helping consumers find the best prices, helping radiology centers compete and bringing more price transparency to regional healthcare markets.

Radiology is the most frequently price-shopped medical procedure, and yet both physicians and patients have suffered from opaque pricing, Schneider said.

When he was working with radiology and oncology centers through Atlantic Health Solutions, Schneider said physicians were increasingly interested in being able to compare the prices of their labs or lab partners to competitors, and patients were increasingly calling just to ask about prices.

"It was hard to get a price at all," Schneider said. Four years ago, Atlantic Health Solutions spun off Save On Medical, initially as a price directory, and last year, at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, launched as a consumer information and service-booking website.

It offers average prices in any zip code for radiology services like X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds, based on a variety of data culled together by algorithims and researchers. In certain markets -- currently New York City, most of Florida and parts of 19 other states -- SaveOnMedical is contracting with radiology centers and letting patients book appointments online.

[See also: Former eHealth execs launch]

"We spread out a little bit further than we originally thought," Schneider said. "We want as many providers as possible."

The business model is supported by a booking fee radiology providers pay when a patient makes an appointment online. The draw for providers is the ability to better manage their capacity, Schneider said. A lab with openings can tailor their pricing and also offer discounts for patients paying upfront.

The company's initial target population was uninsured patients, mostly in Florida, where about 30 percent of adult residents are uninsured. But Schneider thinks that some people may increasingly be self-financing under health reform, especially if they can find discounts. The company is also developing search functions for health plan coverage of radiology services, a feature set to be available in several months.

About 15,000 people have used the site so far, Schneider said, and about 7 percent have booked appointments.

"It's not Google numbers, but this is a captive patient population looking at pricing."

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