The Internet has fundamentally changed the way we do things. Take buying a car, for example. You can get loads of information about a given car model: service histories, user ratings, and what other people are actually paying for the car. This information empowers consumers. In negotiations, information disparity is the greatest tool available. Taking that advantage away from the dealer fundamentally changes their bargaining position.
Much of the talk about the potential of bringing pricing transparency together with consumerism in healthcare is directed precisely at this goal. How do we put consumers in a position to make more economical healthcare choices? Arm them with information about costs!
A service called the Healthcare Blue Book aims to do just that (with thanks to Chris Bevolo for making me aware of this). The auto analogy is clearly visible in their name, and the concept is there. Find a procedure, provide your zip code and tada!, you get a price.
There are two twists here that make this interesting. First, this isn’t the price that any individual doctor or hospital charges – it’s a derived “…payment amount that many high-quality providers accept as payment in full.” And unlike other pricing tools, it provides A VALUE, not a range of possibilities. In other words, it is truly intended to be used as a blue book price for negotiation purposes.
The second twist is that they take this one small step further with a printable detailed pricing agreement for the purpose of facilitating a negotiation discussion and providing a way to get a commitment from your provider proactively.
I find the concept fascinating and yet I see some flaws as well:
- Can consumers correctly translate amongst the many variations on a procedure or treatment to be armed with the correct information?
- Medicine is not a commodity because people are not commodities. Your body may impact the complexity of a procedure. How do you factor that in?
- Are all providers really the same? Clearly not (although I must admit that higher costs often bear little connection to better care).
- What happens when a procedure changes mid-stream?
It’s not perfect. It is, however, an interesting addition to the growing pool of experiments to make health consumerism meaningful.
What do you think? Is this a sign of the future? If so, is your organization prepared to handle your end of the negotiation?