Very sick patients most likely to act on cost data

As patients and employers struggle to pay for healthcare, price-comparison tools are proliferating throughout the Web. Despite the appeal of patient access to such data, experts predict that real patient use of this information will continue at a slow pace, according to a Bloomberg Business News article.

"This stuff is over everybody's head," Paul Keckley, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions in Washington, said. However, "there's always going to be a certain group--we think it's about 2 percent--that will really act on this."

A key reason for the low uptake is that the many variables involved in an individual's medical treatment make it very difficult for patients to compare prices directly. "Are you going to require a few CT scans or just one, or none?" asked Renee Hsia, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who wrote a research report that looked at how much California hospitals charge for routine appendicitis. "Are you going to require a different type of surgery? Even if they post that charge for appendicitis, it's going to be very difficult."

Other barriers that stall price transparency's readiness for prime time include reluctance among providers and patients to share cost information. For example, Mona Lori Frisbie, founder of, finds that few of the site's 300 to 500 daily visitors post the prices they pay for services. As a result, much of the information comes from Medicare data and links to paid-claims data from other websites. "Everyone wants to search and look, but not many people want to contribute and share," Frisbie told Bloomberg.

Nonetheless, employer customers of Castlight Health Inc., a San Francisco-based company that shows how much doctors, labs and hospitals charge for their services, report that they've saved money by providing employees with the data. One customer, Life Technologies Inc., said that more than half of employees on the system made a different decision than they would have without the information, according to spokeswoman Carole Mendoza.

The 13 percent or so of U.S. patients using high-deductible health plans are the most likely individuals to keep tabs on their out-of-pocket health costs, Bloomberg noted. Also clamoring for cost information are "very sick" patients, defined as anyone who had a serious illness, medical condition, injury or disability, according to a poll by Harvard School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio, International Business Times reported.

In particular, three of four people who were sick said cost is a very serious problem, while about half said quality is a very serious problem, according to the article. Moreover, more than 60 percent of the recently ill surveyed said the cost of their medical care has resulted in either "very" or "somewhat" serious problems for their family's finances, while at least 17 percent said there have been times when they have been unable to receive treatment due to excessive healthcare costs.

To learn more:
- read the article from Bloomberg News
- see the story from International Business Times