Healthcare News & Insights

Are secret shoppers the key for improved price transparency?

Patients want upfront information about the price of treatments from their hospitals. But to find out if they’re getting it, hospital leaders may need to go undercover. 

478693431Patients want more price transparency so they can avoid “sticker shock” over the cost of their care, which may lead them to postpone treatments for fear of having to empty out their bank accounts.

As a result, more people are “shopping around” for the best price.

Wide range of prices

It’s understandable that some patients may be shocked about the cost of care. As The Washington Post reports, procedure prices can vary widely across the nation — and even in the same city.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) recently released the prices providers in the network typically charge for knee and hip replacement surgeries, increasingly common procedures across the country.

BCBSA’s report analyzed three years of claims and found that the “average price” for a knee procedure is $31,124, though this doesn’t reflect the average size of patients’ bills. Additionally, the report reveals how widely prices for the same procedure can vary in cities.

For example, in Dallas the same surgery could cost anywhere between $16,772 to $61,585, a 267% price variation, depending on the hospital.

Many patients may not understand why these price differences occur, or how that price tag translates into out-of-pocket costs. However, that may not stop them from taking that pricing information out of context and using it to choose a different provider.

Lacking hospital transparency

By helping patients learn about the cost of care, hospitals have a chance to help them better understand care prices, out-of-pocket expenses and payment options.

But despite the increased demand for this kind of pricing information, it’s not always easy for patients to get the information they need.

A group of hospital execs from the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA) recently learned this first-hand, according to Columbus Business First. The C-suite execs conducted “secret shopper” exercises to determine how easily patients could acquire price information at their facilities.

Many were surprised at how difficult the process was. “A lot of them learned from a customer service standpoint they needed to do some training,” said Mike Abrams, CEO of the OHA.

Hospital leaders will have to improve their efforts to be more transparent about their prices, or risk scaring off patients.

Conducting “secret shopper” drills at your facility can help Hospital CEO and CFOs identify weak areas and develop plans to improve price transparency and patient education on the matter.

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