Hospitals use 'secret shoppers' to gauge price transparency

Price transparency continues to concern patients and healthcare leaders, particularly amid the rise of consumerism in the industry, and a recent experiment conducted by hospital CEOs and CFOs in Ohio makes it clear that much work still remains to be done about the issue.

To find out how it feels to be a consumer at facilities run by the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA), a group of 18 executives and trustees used a "secret shopper" approach, according to Columbus Business First. The healthcare leaders called their own institutions, posing as uninsured patients, and asked a standard set of questions about the cost of common procedures.

While some of the secret shoppers "got very good information," OHA CEO Mike Abrams told the publication, "there were a lot of people surprised at how difficult it was to get pricing information." Indeed, the OHA website's statement on price transparency notes that "hospitals' prices can't yet reflect important information from other key players like the price of physician care while in the hospital or how much of the bill a patient's insurance company may cover." 

Healthcare facilities don't always have to be the catalyst in price transparency reform, however. A recent George Washington University list highlighted the 14 most influential groups promoting price transparency, some of which included: the American Board of Internal Medicine's "Choosing Wisely" initiative, the Healthcare Bluebook and the Health Care Financial Management Association's price transparency task force, FierceHealthFinance reported.

Advocates also push the issue on a state level, most recently in New Mexico, where a bill expected to be introduced in the Senate would create a website where consumers could compare prices and care quality statistics at hospitals throughout the state, the Taos News reported. In Massachusetts, a law enacted this past fall requires health insurers to make the costs of a variety of procedures available to their enrollees.

But these efforts only go so far, as a "report card" issued by the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute and Catalyst for Payment Reform gave 45 states a failing grade on price transparency and awarded no states an "A" grade, according to FierceHealthFinance.

Ohio was one of the states that received an "F" in the report, Columbus Business First notes, underscoring the fact that "we need to at least be better about informing the public about what their burden will be," Abrams said.

To learn more:
- read the Columbus Business First article
- check out the OHA price transparency statement
- here's the Taos News article