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Healthcare price transparency tools seldom used, study finds; more reminders, marketing needed

Younger patients, those with higher deductibles and those living in a higher-income community were the most likely to use the tool.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Price transparency tools have been gaining in popularity among providers, the idea being that they can reduce medical spending by allowing consumers access to pricing data -- which in turn lets them shop around for less expensive services. A new study published in Sage Journals, however, found that few consumers actually use these tools.

Tracking use of the Truven Treatment Cost Calculator among more than 70,000 families from 2011-12, researchers found that only 11 percent of families used the price transparency tool at least once. A scant 1 percent used it at least three times over that two-year period.

Younger patients, those with higher deductibles and those living in a higher-income community were the most likely to use the tool. Families with moderate annual out-of-pocket medical spending -- between $1,000 and $2,779 -- were also more likely to use it.

[Also: Massachusetts hospitals still struggling with price transparency, survey shows]

The data shows that, when used, price transparency tools generally work as intended; patients who use them are more likely to receive lower-priced care for certain services. Overall spending remains high, however, because so few people use them, necessitating new strategies on the part of providers to increase their usage.

Understanding who uses price transparency tools can be helpful in crafting targeted marketing strategies, the study found. Use of the tools is higher among groups that are more likely to be internet fluent, for example. A wider swath of consumers may consider using the tools if the clarity and format of the information is improved, and sending out reminders to patients can also be a helpful strategy. When prior authorization is requested for a patient, for instance, or when a patient receives an explanation of benefits, a reminder of a price transparency tool can increase its usage.

Families living in an area with greater variation in healthcare prices were more likely to use the price transparency tool, as were those with high deductibles and those with total Medicare spending greater than $1,000. Younger families with at least one dependent were also more likely to use it.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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