Survey: 1 in 5 patients comparison-shop for healthcare

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About half of patients use price transparency tools, but many feel there is not enough information available.

Many Americans want access to price transparency tools for healthcare, but they continue to run into roadblocks when they seek information on costs for services.

A nationwide survey conducted by Public Agenda found that about half of patients in the U.S. have tried to find how much their healthcare would cost before going to get care, but 63% said that there is not enough information on costs available.

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“With life's essentials, such as housing, education and healthcare, becoming unaffordable for many Americans, we need to find ways to help contain these costs,” said Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda, in an announcement. “While price transparency alone is not enough to make healthcare affordable, it does have the potential to help people manage their health spending and save some money.”

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The survey included a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 adults as well as representative surveys of 800 adults in Texas, New York state, Florida and New Hampshire and was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New York State Health Foundation. Though half of the participants tried to shop around for price information, only 20% compared prices between providers before seeking care, the survey found. About 28% only wanted to see the price for a specific provider.

About 70% of the survey respondents said they don’t think that higher prices indicate better care, and about 60% of those who comparison-shopped said they chose a less-expensive doctor, hospital, medical test or treatment. Of the people who were comparing prices, about 53% reported cost savings. Among those who said they don’t typically seek out price data, 40% said they would also choose a less-expensive provider if they compared.

The findings leave several considerations for policymakers and providers, including:

  1. Healthcare stakeholders should help patients compare prices and save money.
  2. Price transparency programs should target people who are likely to have the highest out-of-pocket costs.
  3. Clinicians and other staffers should be trained for potential price conversations with patients.
  4. States should find ways to make price data more transparent and accessible.