A study offers a compelling case for price transparency in helping reel in the nation’s health costs. As this New York Times article notes, a recent study looked at parental choices when faced with selecting between two different methods of routine, uncomplicated appendectomies for their children.
In the study two groups of parents were shown informational videos on the two different appendectomy procedures – open surgery or using a laparoscope. Laparoscopic surgery is the less invasive of the two, and was priced at $2,000 more. The videos were identical except that one included the price of the two procedures; the other did not.
Interestingly, by nearly a 2/3 margin the parents chose the less expensive though more invasive option. 90% of parents commented that they appreciated having the choice, suggesting that people given price information are more likely to choose the cheaper option.
The surgeon who conducted the study said the information from the hospital could be surprisingly hard for even surgeons to obtain because hospitals consider their price lists proprietary. Where else is the consumer not allowed to know the price, either with or without such choices to make?
He added, “Medicine is often regarded as this magical part of our economy where patients can’t make any choices.” But they can, and that can help hold down costs, he said, noting, “With a bit of information, I can choose my cellphone even though I don’t understand how it works.”
Mark Powell says
I believe price is one of the important considerations when choosing medical procedures. However, I worry about the ethics of choosing a more invasive procedure based upon cost considerations. As insurance costs have increased, employers are passing on the expense by increasing copays and co insurance for medical procedures and diagnostic tests. This may lead cash strapped parents to make decisions based on their cost instead of what is best for their child. It leaves me feeling concerned for a society that has to make choices like this.